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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Mercy, Mercy Me

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The dramatic story of Yosef and his brothers finally comes to a conclusion in our Sedra this week. In one of the most poignant scenes in all of literature, Yosef breaks down and reveals his identity, shocking his siblings to the core with just two penetrating words: "Ani Yosef – I am Yosef!"

But what is it that finally compels Yosef to end the charade and seek reconciliation with those who betrayed him?

To answer that question – yes, you guessed it! – let’s first ask another probing question. Two times - first in last week’s parsha (43:5), and again in this week’s sedra (43:23) - the brothers quote Yosef as saying that, if they did not bring their youngest brother Binyamin to him, "Lo toseyfun lir’ot panay – You will not see my face again!"

The only problem is….Yosef never said that! True, he did demand to have Binyamin brought to Egypt (so that all the brothers could be in one place at the same time), but he never used that specific phrase! So why is he being misquoted?! Twice!

Students of the text will know that, while it is true that Yosef never said "Lo toseyfun lir’ot panay," someone else did say it! That was Paro, in Parshat Bo (10:28), when he tells Moshe, after the 9th plague of Darkness, "You shall not see my face again." What is the connection?

I suggest that Yehuda and the brothers - by attributing to Yosef a phrase that was apparently often used by the Pharoahs - were intimating that Yosef had become no less cruel than Paro! For in Egypt, like in most dictatorships, "law and order" was arbitrary and merciless. If a person was unjustly accused of a crime – as Yosef was in the house of Potipher, and as the brothers felt they were – that person had no recourse to an appeal; there was no layered court system. The only way one could reverse a judgment was a pardon by Paro himself, if he deigned to actually hear the case.

And so, by saying, "You shall not see my face again," Paro was saying, "Your chance of convincing me of the rightness of your cause is gone, finished." This crushing of an innocent’s hope is supremely cruel. And it is precisely that which Yehuda accuses Yosef of doing.

This, I suggest, is what "gets" to Yosef. For he, like all good Jews, is a Rachamim Ben Rachamim, a compassionate, righteous, just human being with a holy soul. To be branded the opposite, to be told he is cruel in the extreme, is too much for him. He is torn apart by the accusation, and so he relents and he forgives.

One of the basic traits of a Jew is Mercy. Our holy army, the IDF, has it; our People has it; our State has it. And that is why Hashem loves us and will always guard us. And so, just as G-d showed mercy to Yosef, he shows it to his family as well.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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