The revelation was dramatic: with two words, “Ani Yosef, I am Joseph,” Yosef creates a flurry of crisis, confusion and overwhelming joy. The family can once again be whole, brothers can reconcile and Yaakov would be able to embrace the child he thought was gone forever. Yosef speaks conciliatory words and gives gifts to his brother to reinforce the love he feels for them. Regarding the gifts, the Torah states:“He gave them all, to each one [several] changes of clothes, and to Benjamin he gave three hundred [pieces of] silver and five changes of clothes” (Bereishis 45:22)
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) questions Yosef’s actions: “Could it be that Yosef would engage in the same behavior which caused him so much pain? For Rav said, for the little bit of extra money Yaakov spent on Yosef’s coat the animosity between the brothers intensified and we ended up in Egypt.”
The Talmud acknowledges that Yaakov’s extra gift to Yosef amplified the animosity which existed between the brothers ultimately leading to the sale of Yosef. Would Yosef really repeat the same mistake? Why would he give Binyamin five changes of clothing when he only gave the other brothers one each? Would this not ignite sibling rivalry with the potential for more catastrophic consequences?
The Talmud advances a dramatic answer: “Rabbi Binyamin explained: The five articles of clothing were a symbolic allusion to the future descendant of Binyamin; a man by the name of Mordechai, who would walk before the king wearing five different monarchial garments.”
Yosef was not playing favorites. He was telling his brother that he will have descendant who will live in difficult times but will emerge victorious and influential. This was a reference to Mordechai who together with Queen Esther helped to orchestrate the salvation of Purim.
The great tzaddik, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev provides greater insight. The Rebbe explains that this was no mere metaphoric foreshadow. Yosef was telling Binyamin, “our destinies are intertwined. Not only do we share the same mother and father but our life experiences are interwoven. You see dear brother, you will have a grandson who will experience the same things I have gone through. He will have grown up in the beautiful holiness of Eretz Yisroel only to be exiled to a foreign land. He too will serve a despotic, unpredictable king. I rose to prominence through the interpretation of dreams and his rise to prominence will also begin with dreams (a reference to the episode in the Megillah where Achashverosh could not sleep and asked for his chronicles at which point he read of how Mordechai foiled the assassination attempt planned by Bigsan and Seresh). My beloved brother, there will be times when your grandson Mordechai will want to give up hope. I hope he can glean the necessary strength from my example. I faced difficult situations but never lost faith in my God or in myself. I was cast into an alien society, yet maintained fidelity to my religious principles and ideals. I could have given up numerous times, but I believed that God had a plan for me and my life was purposeful. Take these 5 garments and hold them close, because one day your grandson will wear the garments of royalty. I hope that he will draw inspiration from my example and my memory. I hope he will remember his uncle, Yosef and tell himself, “if Yosef could do it, so can I.”
Yosef was teaching his brothers an incredible lesson. How we deal with life’s difficulties sets an example for those around us and for future generations. How we deal with adversity can inspire others to summon the necessary courage to meet their challenges. As parents, this lesson resonates with incredible importance. We all face stressful situations. Some experience financial difficulties, others must deal with health set-backs, some struggle with shalom bayis problems. How we deal with our life stressors sets an incredible example for our children and those around us. If we lose our heads and tempers when things get tough, if our middos (character traits) degrade the moment we face adversity, then we set the wrong tone and example for our families and friends.
The 5 garments given to Binyamin were a tangible display that if you keep it together during times of crisis you can navigate even the most tumultuous of life waters. Yosef was the living proof of this concept. It was Yosef’s example which inspired Mordechai and countless others to do the same. Lean on God, put in every ounce of effort you can and somehow, you will get through it.
Stress, challenge and adversity are fixtures of the human condition. We can’t control their presence in our lives, but we do control how we manage them. Each of us has the 5 garments of Binyamin. Each of us has the power of Yosef. May we find the courage, stamina and emunah to confront our challenges and in doing so model this beautiful and inspired behavior for our families, friends and future generations.