Classics and Beyond Vayigash — Assessing and Reassessing

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    Vayigash 2 — Assessing and Reassessing
    לכלם נתן לאיש חלפות שמלת ולבנימן נתן שלש מאות כסף וחמש חלפת שמלת
    To each of them he gave changes of clothes, but to Binyamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five changes of clothes (Bereishis 45:22).
    The Gemara in Megillah (16a-b) asks: Of all people, Yosef should have been aware of the consequences of showing favoritism and giving preferential treatment (as he had received a kesones pasim from his father, which aroused his brothers’ envy), so how could he have given a larger gift to Binyamin?
    To this, the Gemara answers that Yosef was not showing favoritism, but hinting to Binyamin that his descendant would be clothed in five royal garments, as it says, “U’Mordechai yatza mi’lifnei hamelech bi’levush malchus techeiles va’chur va’ateres zahav gedolah ve’sachrich butz ve’argaman — And Mordechai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white with a large gold crown and a robe of linen and purple” (Esther 8:15).
    In Mesillos Chaim, Rav Chaim Elazary points out an interesting and important lesson that we can learn from the exact wording of the Gemara’s question: “Efshar davar she’nitztaer bo oso tzaddik yikashel bo? Is it possible that this tzaddik (Yosef) stumbled with the same detail from which he himself suffered?”
    The Gemara does not ask how a tzaddik like Yosef could make such a mistake. After all, Yaakov was no less of a tzaddik and he himself had done the very same thing. That a tzaddik can err is not in question. What Chazal questioned was how a tzaddik like Yosef, who himself had suffered the consequences of this type of action, would do the same thing.
    From the Gemara’s perspective, a tzaddik is not someone who never makes mistakes, but someone who learns from previous mistakes, his or others’; if he does make a mistake, he acknowledges it, reevaluates, and tries to improve for the future. A mistake affords him the opportunity for growth and learning, placing him on the path to perfection and sheleimus. This is the making of a tzaddik.
    In regard to Yosef, not learning from his own experiences and thereby repeating his father’s mistake would not be in keeping with his status of a tzaddik.
    Similarly, one known as a yerei Elokim, a G-d-fearing person, will also constantly reassess and improve on his past actions when called for. After accusing his ten brothers of spying, Yosef insisted that they return with their brother Binyamin to substantiate their innocence. He told them to pick one brother to return to Canaan to bring back their youngest brother, and that the other nine would remain behind as “security.” To show them that he meant business, he put them all in prison. After three days, though, Yosef announced that he’d changed his mind, telling them that all of them may return to Canaan, and that only one of them must remain behind as his prisoner (42:16-19).
    He explained his change of heart with the words, “Es ha’Elokim ani yarei — I fear G-d” (v.18). The Ramban (v.17) and Radak (v.18) explain that as a G-d-fearing person, Yosef did not want to inflict unnecessary pain upon the families back home, who were impatiently waiting for food. Were they to die of hunger, Yosef would be liable to Hashem for their death. So he decided that it would be sufficient for one brother to remain behind to ensure the others’ return.
    Along the lines of what we have been discussing until now, Rav Shimon Schwab (Maayan Beis HaSho’eivah) explains that a yerei Elokim, one who fears G-d, always reevaluates and reviews his decisions and goals in life. With a goal of constant improvement and growth, he is always assessing and reassessing his conduct: “Did I make the right choice? Was my conduct truly becoming? Could I have done something better?”
    While most people in positions of power are reluctant to admit a mistake or alter their course, a leader who fears G-d will have the strength, sense of honor, and humility to revisit his earlier decisions and make changes where appropriate. When Yosef said to the shevatim, “Es ha’Elokim ani yarei — I fear G-d,” he personified this middah of reviewing and reevaluating. Not only did he show his yiras Elokim by reconsidering his past decision, he was even willing to share the reason for the change.
    Rav Schwab then suggests that Yosef may also have hoped that his brothers would learn from his willingness to reassess and admit mistakes and apply that lesson to their earlier dealings with him. He hoped that his admission of error would spur them to reevaluate their fateful choice to sell him into slavery. We see that this occurred immediately afterward (v.21), where the brothers finally expressed regret over have sold Yosef as a slave.
    After seeing Yosef’s willingness to admit a mistake, they, too, performed a cheshbon hanefesh and had a change of heart.

    Reb Eliezer

    What is the gemora’s answer when Benjamin still received more, so Yosef showed favoritism? The GRA explains that what Benjamin received was the same in value given to him only to be meramez, imply the elevation of Mordechai in the future and how great he will become as the dictum maaseh avos siman labonim, the actions of the fathers reflect on the behavior of their children.

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