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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: Dying of Embarrassment 

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dying of Embarrassment 

There is a Midrash that says that when we eventually go up to Heaven and are put on trial we will be as embarrassed as the brothers were in front of Yosef. The Beis Halevi shares with us a marvellous idea on this.

On a superficial level, we can understand this Midrash by simply saying that we cannot bluff someone who sees the bigger picture. The brothers claimed that their brother was not with them, but Yosef knew why he wasn't really with them, and when he revealed himself to them, they actually died of embarrasment according to some commentators. Even if we don't learn this, it's clear what the metaphor is trying to portray. There was nothing they could say.

But we can look at it in a deeper fashion, and admire the nobility Yosef displayed. For one: וְלֹא יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיִּקְרָא הוֹצִיאוּ כָל אִישׁ מֵעָלָי וְלֹא עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו - Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, "Take everyone away from me!" So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

On which Rashi says: ולא יכול יוסף להתאפק לכל הנצבים: לא היה יכול לסבול שיהיו מצרים נצבים עליו ושומעין שאחיו מתביישין בהודעו להם - Now Joseph could not bear all those standing: He could not bear that Egyptians would stand beside him and hear his brothers being embarrassed when he would make himself known to them. [From Tanchuma Vayigash 5].

We must not forget that at this point, from the brothers perspective at least, they had been harrassed and interrogated by a foreign ruler, and they had him on their own; he was unguarded. There was every possibility they'd have murdered him and escaped, but he could not bear to embarass them publicly.

But moreover, from 44:20, Yehudah explains that they have an old father and attempt to explain that they do not want to bring Binyamin to Yosef for their fathers sake.

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו - And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence.

The Beis Halevi points out that the first thing he said to them after telling them who he was, was "is my father still alive?". Clearly he knew he was alive, as Yehudah had spoken at length about him. The fact he asked this question anyway is telling, heartrending and completely ironic. It really means "Is he not my father too? Was he not alive back then for you to not have abandoned and disowned me? Is he only alive to you now?". And they could not say anything, because of course he was right, their hypocrisy had been revealed, which caused them to die of embarrassment, whether we take that literally or figuratively. This is tochacha in its true form (tochacha, usually translated as rebuke, is a form of the word lhochiach, to prove).

There was nothing they could say, but instead of shouting at them he simply said גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ - "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer (45:4). He hugged them all, and it is simply unfathomable for any of us to have acted in such a way, even when faced with lesser evils than he'd suffered, and it is no small wonder we call him Yosef HaTzaddik with middos (character traits) such as these.

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