The Saga of Yosef and his brothers is a story for the ages, containing all the elements of human drama. Sibling rivalry, jealousy and temptation are but a few of the threads the Torah weaves together as it tells this incredible tale, a tale full of emotion and complete with a powerful ending. Yosef is alive and well and living as viceroy of Egypt. The destiny of Klal Yisrael unfolds through the hidden working of G-d’s hand — a remarkable finish to a tumultuous journey.
The Torah tells us that when Yosef’s brothers told their father the good news, “Vatichi ruach Yaakov avihem, And the spirit of their father, Yaakov, was revived” (Bereishis 45:27). Rashi explains this verse to mean that Yaakov was more than happy; he was transformed — the Shechinah returned to him after 22 years. One can only imagine the emotional impact on a man who, as a result of a tragedy, lost his Divine inspiration. Surely the revelation of Yosef’s survival was an incredible event.
What is puzzling, however, is Yosef’s behavior throughout this ordeal. Surely he knew his father was suffering. Why did he not inform him of his whereabouts? Certainly once he ascended to royalty he could have notified him. Why wasn’t Yosef worried about his father? What right did he have to prolong his father’s agony and withhold from him the joy that was “Vatichi ruach Yaakov avihem”?
The Or Hachaim solves this enigma with a dual approach. First, there was a Divine plan at work here which precluded Yaakov from knowing the true fate of his son. Our Sages explain that Yaakov was sentenced from Above to 22 years of parental anguish for the 22 years he spent away from home, unavailable to serve his parents. A revelation of Yosef’s whereabouts would have voided this Divine retribution.
This approach explains G-d’s rationale for keeping Yosef’s secret. What it fails to address, however, is Yosef’s angle. One must find justification for Yosef’s action from a perspective of human nature and free will.
The Or Hachaim, therefore, offers another, more practical, explanation. Yosef’s silence was indeed justified, for it reflected a decision based on logistics, sensitivity and good judgment. When Yosef was a slave, communication with his father was outside his realm of ability. And even if he had gotten the chance to send a message, he feared retribution from his brothers, as they would no doubt be castigated or even cursed by their father for what they had done to him.
Later, once he had ascended to royalty and was more at ease about his safety, Yosef could have told the tale. But he still had a reason to stay quiet, for he did not want to embarrass his brothers, in accordance with the dictum, “Better a person should throw himself into a fiery furnace and not shame his friend” (Berachos 43b). Because humiliating someone is tantamount to killing him, Yosef decided that elongating Yaakov’s pain was the lesser of two evils: better to keep quiet than to expose a scandal in the Patriarchal dynasty.
Only after Yosef fed his bothers and gave them money, only after he dealt with them in good faith, could he make his startling revelation. Once his brothers saw he had no hard feelings toward them, once he impressed upon them “ki lemichyah shelachani Elokim” (45:5) — that he had been at the center of a Divine plan — their humiliation was tempered as well as their potential anger and retribution.
Yosef’s silence, one sees, was justified; ‘it was all a matter of timing. As great as was the need to ease his father’s pain, the consideration of all these other factors superseded that need.
We live in a world of many mystifying events. Tragedies, difficulties, pain and sorrow are often along the walkway of Klal Yisrael’s destiny. Yet, through it all, we as Jews believe “Kol mah de’avid Rachmana letav avid” (Berachos 60b). Everything G-d does He does for our benefit and with our best interests in mind. What we must keep in mind is that we are not privy to G-d’s sense of timing.
Yes, there will be good in the world, there will be a redemption, there will be an end to our pain and suffering — all in its proper time. There are details we may not be aware of, details only G-d is aware of, details that are necessary for the desired outcome.
As I address the new brides and grooms of 2022, I say you are all living testimony of G-d’s amazing sense of timing. All of you have been through the rigors of dating, have experienced the pain of false hope and disappointment when you thought that he or she was the “one”, and the loneliness of being single. And you wondered, when would relief come? Why was G-d withholding your soulmate?
Nonetheless, you always knew in the back of your minds that Hashem would deliver, that He would end your suffering. You knew He had a plan, but that it was subject to the proper timing. Only after the pain and anguish of searching for your mate impacted on your characters and helped define who you were and what you were looking for, only then could you appreciate the grace of G-d and the gift He has given you.