The tension was mounting. The brothers couldn’t understand the irrational behavior of this unknown Egyptian viceroy. Binyamin stood accused of theft and faced a lifetime of incarceration and servitude in Egypt. The brothers faced the horrible reality of returning to Yaakov, their father, without his precious, youngest son. Yehuda, acting as the spokesman, approached the Egyptian ruler (Yosef) and said, “For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!” (Genesis 44:34) Rashi explains: “Now if you ask why I (Yehuda) enter the fray more than my other brothers, [I will reply that] they are all [standing] from the outside [without commitment], while I have bound myself with a strong bond to be an outcast in both worlds.” In last week’s Parsha we read that it was Yehuda who guaranteed Binyamin’s safety to his father, Yaakov. And it would be Yehuda who would face the brunt of Yaakov’s heartbreak and wrath in this world and the next, should he return without Binyamin. It was in this moment that Yehuda demonstrated a core principle of leadership – responsibility. The rabbis explain that it was in this very moment that Yehuda earned the future mantle of Jewish monarchy. A leader must possess many important traits and characteristics but to be a truly effective leader one must be willing to take full responsibility for the process and outcome of events. One must be willing to wave the flag of victory and shoulder the burden of defeat.
But there is something else. Embedded in these simple words, “For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me?” is another profound and meaningful message. Rav Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye (1710-1784, Toldos Yaakov Yosef) explains: “Koh tzarich kol yehudi l’daber el libo, ‘eych e’eleh achar kach el avi she’bashamayim, vi’yimey ha’neurim eynam iti, kalu b’hevel v’rik, (so shall every Jew say in his heart, ‘how can I ascend (after death) to my Father in Heaven, and the days of youth are not with me for I have squandered them in emptiness and frivolity’).”
Powerful words from a great Chassidic master. After 120 God will ask us how we used our youth. How did we use those years which were filled with promise and potential? How did we use those years of strength and vigor? Let’s be honest – it’s easy to be pious when we’re old, tired and no longer have the desire or stamina to sin. How we used our youth – that will be the question God will ask us. The Rebbe explains that in this very moment Yehuda was lamenting all the lost years. Years that were spent covering for a crime against his own flesh and blood. Years which were taken from Yaakov and could never be returned. He lamented the youthful innocence stolen from Yosef that could never be recovered. Yehuda broke down in front of his brothers and in front of Egypt, how will I face my father in Canaan and how will I face my father in Heaven when I know I have not maximized my youth and I have taken the youthful years of others.
The Rebbe’s words cut right to our soul. How have we used our youth? Have we actualized our unique potentials? Have we utilized our strengths and abilities? Have we maximized our youth? These are scary questions because if it turns out that we did not maximize our youth, what can we do about it now? Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905), known as the Sefas Emes (Pirkei Avos 4:20) explains. “Who is a child? One who has a tomorrow.” The holy Gerrer Rebbe goes on to explain that each day is its own self-contained unit of life. We often look at a day as an incremental unit in the measurement of weeks, months and years. But in truth every day is its own cycle of life. Throughout the day we age and mature. In the morning when we wake up we are like newborn infants, by noon in our early adult years, by late afternoon we reach our mature adult and twilight years, and by nightfall we return our soul to our Maker and the unit of life has come to an end. In other words, youth is a constantly recurring state of being which begins at the start of each day. How we each decide to use our youth of any one day will determine the trajectory of that one unit of life, that one day. And even if for some reason we didn’t maximize the youth of yesterday we can still do so tomorrow. We are given the great gift of youth every morning upon awakening. Our mandate is to make the most of it.
The question of “how have I used my youth?” need not be anxiety provoking; it just needs to be reframed. “How have I used my youth?” is not nearly as important as “how am I going to use my youth in the days, weeks, months and years ahead?”
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
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.