Vayigash: The Secret of Forgiveness

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week's parsha, Vayigash, we read about Yosef's reconciliation with his brothers.  From the moment they had come down to Egypt in search of food he had estranged himself and had "dealt harshly with them."  He  established certain tests they would have to meet in order to prove that they had overcome the defects which had governed their behavior toward Yosef in the first place.  The "approach" of Yehuda in which he offered to take the place of Benyamin in prison, so that the "lad" who was now the father's favorite could return home was the ultimate proof that the brothers had overcome their animosity to Yosef and to their father for favoring him.

There was no point in prolonging the agony.  Yosef all along had restrained his urge to reveal himself and be united with his brothers.  He had completely forgiven them for the mistreatment he had suffered at their hands.  He knew that they would be fearful of his revenge and thus sought to convince them that he bore them no ill will.  His basic argument was that they should not be distressed that they had sold him to Egypt because due to his ability to save the family it had turned out to be a great blessing.  Moreover, he argued, it wasn't really them who were responsible for his being here but rather Hashem who "has made me a father unto Pharaoh and a master of his entire household and ruler over the land of Egypt."

At first glance Yosef's arguments are difficult to comprehend.  It's nice that things turned out so well, but does that absolve the brothers from responsibility for their misdeeds?  Their intention was to destroy him and it was G-d who thwarted their plan and converted it into a great blessing.  That should not in any way diminish the evil character of their actions which must be measured by their motives and intentions at the time  What did Yosef mean by his seemingly strange explanation?

In my opinion Yosef did not mean to absolve them from responsibility.  The fact that he had taken measures to bring about their Teshuva proves that he regarded their actions as sinful.  However, now that they had repented of their evil he bore no ill will.  Indeed he loved them.  His words of condolence to them expressed his philosophy of life.  He told them that he relates to events in terms of their objective significance and not from the standpoint of his ego.  Being sold as a slave to Egypt was a blow to his ego, and most people could never get past that and would endlessly hate those responsible.  Yosef, however, viewed things from an entirely different perspective.  The events that had transpired were the unfolding of a Divine plan to effectuate the salvation of Egypt, the world and his family.  He recognized that it was the will of G-d that this should happen and he was happy that he was an integral part of the Divine plan.  Yosef was able to forgive because he was firmly attached to the true good and was unconcerned about his "personal feelings."  Since he rejoiced in that which was of genuine significance he could easily forgive those who had slighted him or hurt his feelings.  May we elevate ourselves to a higher level of existence which enables us to discern what is of real importance and overlook the insignificant and trivial.

Shabbat Shalom