Drash Cards for VaYigash (5777)
By Marc Mangel
- Today, I want to talk about the ‘Joseph Problem’.
- What we read today sets up the difficulty.
- Joseph’s mind game with the brothers continues; Judah confronts him, and finally Joseph cannot bear what this mind game any longer.
- In what is one of my two favorite lines in the Torah, he identifies himself to his brothers (Ch 45, v3) and then cries out “Is my father still alive”. His brothers are frozen in shock and unable to answer, so he say again (Ch 45, v4) “I am Joseph your brother whom you should [into slavery] in Egypt”.
- These verses set the stage for Yaakov and his family to come to Egypt so that they will not starve during famine. Joseph settles the family in prime territory – Goshen, which Chazal call the very first ghetto (and may have made the enslavement of the Israelites easier in the future).
- The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote about these actions: “This is Joseph’s heritage to every Jew. Joseph taught us to repay evil with goodness, just as he did with his brothers, sustaining them for the rest of his life. In his act of feeding his family in a time of famine, despite all their wrongs towards him, he has given us the power to reach beyond the surface of our fellow Jew, with all its superficial failings, and to penetrate to the core of that person’s being and respond to its fundamental holiness”. The Rebbe says that treating another Jew this way arouses holiness in both us and the other person, to reveal the essence of our soul.
- So we now come to the Joseph problem. When the Israelites ultimately enter the Land of Israel, there is no allocation to the tribe of Joseph. There is no remembrance of Joseph in the land.
- Now, I know that you are about to say: “Marc you are wrong; there is a double remembrance of Joseph, because Manasseh and Ephraim, his sons represent them well.
- To be sure, Manasseh and Ephraim have much to recommend them:
- They are the first brothers, living together, who seem to be able to get along, which could be why we bless our sons to be like them.
- Chazal teach that Manasseh – whose name comes from the root ‘causing to forget’ – reminds us that Joseph was able to forget his past hardships and Ephraim – whose name comes from the root ‘fruit’ – reminds us that Joseph was thankful for God making him fruitful in Egypt. We should do the same – forget our past hardships and thank God for making us successful.
- But it still does not answer why Joseph is not represented. Why does Joseph’s name not enter the holy land?
- The Chatam Sofer in his commentary on the Torah says that because Joseph had unwittingly caused so much disunity as a youth, he was barred from activities that symbolized unity among Israel’s leader.
- You might say, well God made Joseph do this, and it was necessary for the creation of the Jewish people. But surely we could think of lots of other ways that Joseph could end up in Egypt (the man he meets when looking for the brother, for example, could have been a kidnapper). No, Joseph sowed disunity in his family through his own free will.
- We know, of course, of another individual who could not enter the promised land – Moses, because he could not control his anger.
- The Torah is teaching us that there is another way not to enter the promised land: by sowing disunity and discord among your family. That’s a powerful message for all of us.