Sunday, December 23, 2007

Parashas Miketz

Vayar Yosef es echav vayakireim, vayisnaker aleihem ... vayaker Yosef es echav v’heim lo hikiruhu [Beresihis 42:7-8] ... And Yosef saw his brothers and he recognized them and he was a stranger to them ... and Yosef recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.

Rashi offers two explanations as to why the recognition was not mutual; because Yosef was now bearded and the brothers had last seen him as a young man, or homiletically, Yosef recognized them as his brothers and treated them mercifully in contrast to their actions, when they held his fate in their hands and failed to treat him mercifully. Perhaps one can detect an allusion to these two interpretations in that the Torah seems to redudantly repeat the fact that Yosef recognized his brothers. Nevertheless, the redundancy is puzzling.

Both the Ibn Ezra and S’forno note that first Yosef saw them as a group and only afterwards recognized them individually. The Netziv expands this idea somewhat and comments that when Yosef first saw them, he recognized that they had not changed at all. He therefore spoke to them harshly [vayisnaker aleihem] hoping that this might effect a change, but it did not. The Torah therefore repeats the phrase to emphasize that Yosef saw that things had not changed and even when he had provided motivation, the shevatim still failed to recognize him.

We would do well at this point to try to understand what Yosef was trying to accomplish. What purpose was served by not revealing himself? Some commentaries maintain that he sought to find out whether their hatred for him extended to Binyamin and he therefore tested them. However, one is tempted to wonder what he would have done had he discovered that indeed they did harbor animosity for Binyamin. It would have complicated things greatly and perhaps everyone would be best off with a staus quo. Others maintain that Yosef felt it was necessary to bring his dreams to fruition and he therefore manipulated events to cause this to happen. This too leaves me wondering, for if the dreams were prophecy, it is not up to Yosef to make them come true.

The analysis that follows is based on Rav Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin who sees this parashah as a continuation of the battle between Yosef and Yehudah for sovereignty over the emerging Jewish nation. The two brothers had two very different approaches toward the role of leadership and to the nature of the Divine relationship with the descendants of Yaakov. Yosef maintained that although there was a promise of hashgachah pratis that would always protect them, the ideal was to live a life wherein man would seek kirvas Elokim within hashgachah klalis. Yehudah, on the other hand, maintained that this type of aspiration was attainable only by tzaddikim and would never work for most people. The collective recognition of G-d’s role in this world and thus, the obligation to subjugate one’s will and act in accordance with His, would best find expression if there was a more obvious [i.e., hashgachah pratis] relationship.

The Netziv would seem to suggest a similar explanation. In explaining the difference between the names Yaakov and Yisrael, which seem to be used almost interchangeably in these parshios, he comments that Yaakov represents the desire to live within nature whereas Yisrael represents the relationship of Israel and Hashem that transcends nature. Yaakov always preferred to remain Yaakov - the man who lives within nature - [see Midrash at the beginning of parashas Vayeshev - bikesh Yaakov leshev b’shalvah - Yaakov sought to live in serenity as Yaakov and not as Yisroel] which was, perhaps, the reason why he loved Yosef so much, for they shared this objective.

When the brothers first had the chance to deal with Yosef and their animosity toward him, the consensus of opinion had been to put him to death. It was Yehudah who suggested that they refrain from doing so, pointing out [37:26] mah betzah ki naharog es achinu - we will accomplish nothing by killing him; i.e., we will not resolve the fundamental difference in approach that caused the disagreement. On the contrary, let us throw him into a pit and he will see for himself that he cannot survive without hashgachah pratis - a Divinely tuned set of miracles that will save him. Indeed, Yehudah is correct, for had Yosef not been sold to Potiphar, seduced by his wife, incarcerated with the sar hatabachim and ofim and given the opportunity to interpret their dreams, he would have never had the opportunity to be introduced to Pharoah so as to be able to interpret his dreams - clearly a chain of events that had no natural explanation.

Yosef accepts that the evidence is a clear sign of Divine Providence. [See 41:28 where Yosef tells Pharoah that the dreams are not meaningless but a sign that G-d is allowing him to know what is about to transpire.] This in itself would have made him unrecognizable to his brothers, for it was an aspect of his personality that had never been revealed; the willingness to accept the opinion or viewpoint of another. But he suspects the sincerity of his brothers who had professed to be subscribers to Yehudah’s point of view.

In the aftermath of his sale, a famine breaks out and the brothers are forced to go to Egypt to purchase provisions. They are not the only people dependent upon the ample stocks of Egypt; people are arriving from everywhere. Yet, they are singled out to be brought to the Egyptian viceroy. Surely there were more important matters for this man to busy himself with, yet he interrogates them personally, accuses them of being spies, makes a series of personal inquiries that are completely irrelevant, incarcerates the brother who they know is the most volatile, and then sends them back to bring their youngest brother as if this will prove that they are honest. Would there not be room to think that people who believed in hashgachah pratis would have asked themselves, what does this all mean? Would it not be logical that one of them would recall Yosef’s dreams and say: “What’s happening seems to be a fulfillment of those dreams. Maybe ... possibly ... this is all connected to Yosef?”

In the end it is Yehudah who approaches Yosef. It is Yehudah who realizes that despite his own firm belief in hashgachah and a life that embodies supernatural interventions and miracles, there are and will be situations where that Providence is hidden. It is up to him to pacify this man and win his brother’s release. Thus, he proposes to Yosef that he is prepared to accept his fate as a slave to Yosef and let nature run its course. It is the supreme gesture of admission of powerlessness and will lead Yosef to reveal his identity. Rav Tzadok concludes his analysis of the disagreement between the brothers by pointing out that although it is Yosef who is referred to as tzaddik by Chazal, it is Yehudah to whom Yaakov gives sovereignty. Moshe Rabbenu - in his final charge to the people in parashas V’zos ha-Berachah - points out that it is Yehudah who has the capability of being the leader of the people - v’el amo tivienu - it is Yehudah who will bring kirvas Elokim to the nation as a whole.

No comments: