Dvar Torah Mikeitz — True Empathy

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    Mikeitz 2 — True Empathy
    אם כנים אתם אחיכם אחד יאסר בבית משמרכם ואתם לכו הביאו שבר רעבון בתיכם
    “If you are truthful people, let one of your brothers be imprisoned in your ward house, and you, go bring provisions for the hunger of your households” (Bereishis 42:19).
    Why did Yosef describe the prison as “beis mishmarchem,” your ward house? The pasuk should have said, “beis mishmaro,” his ward house — meaning the place where the one shevet, Shimon, was in prison, not mishmarchem, which means your prison, with the plural form of your. Was there a special prison devoted personally to the shevatim?
    Rashi (ad loc.) seems to address this when he writes, “she’atem assurim bo achshav — in which you are presently imprisoned.” The facility was appropriately called “your ward house,” because Yosef had placed all of the shevatim there for the past three days.
    My father suggested that Yosef’s wording reflected his awareness of the deep love and empathy the shevatim had for one another. He understood that were one brother to be placed in jail, the others would feel as though they were there, as well. Their sense of achdus, unity, was such that the suffering of one would be felt by them all.
    This is much like the Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4), which discusses how a person should love his fellow like himself and never seek revenge or bear a grudge. Just like if a person accidentally cuts himself with a knife, he wouldn’t take revenge against the hand that was holding the knife and thereby hurt him, so, too, a person should not take revenge against his fellow Jew who wronged him. If he loves his fellow like he loves himself, it is as nonsensical to take revenge against him as it is to seek revenge against his own hand.
    The brothers abided by this principle; they loved each other so much that they all felt connected, like they were different parts of one body. The incarceration of one brother was experienced by all the brothers. Therefore, Yosef was confident that if he freed all but one, they would return as soon as they could, since they all commiserated with Shimon and could not bear the thought of him being imprisoned. Perhaps this is why Yosef referred to the prison as “beis mishmarchem,” since as long as Shimon was stuck there, they all felt as if they were incarcerated.
    It is not enough to sympathize; we must empathize. The pain and torment experienced by our fellow Jew should be felt deep within and become part of our very selves. It is not enough to be an interested bystander; we have to be an intimate participant. This is the level of love expected of us in order to fulfill the mitzvah of “Ve’ahavta le’rei’acha kamocha — You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
    We see this idea in Parashas Shemos (5:4). Pharaoh said to Moshe and Aharon, “Lamah Moshe ve’Aharon tafriu es ha’am mi’maasav lechu le’sivloseichem — Moshe and Aharon, why would you disturb the nation from its work? Go to your own burdens.” Rashi explains that Pharaoh was not telling Moshe and Aharon to go to their hard labor, but to their work at home. This is because their shevet, Levi, was not enslaved, and Moshe and Aharon were free to come and go as they pleased.
    If that was the case, why did Pharaoh use the word “sivlos,” which means burdens or suffering, not simple housekeeping? Perhaps without realizing it, Pharaoh was identifying this same trait of empathy, which the shevatim had possessed and which every Jew must demonstrate. Moshe and Aharon, while not enslaved and suffering physically, were enslaved and suffering emotionally. Their fellow Jews were being tormented; how could they enjoy their day or sleep at night? Their brothers’ pain became theirs, as well. This trait was particularly evident in Shevet Levi.
    While Pharaoh may have thought that Moshe and Aharon had free time on their hands, that was the farthest thing from the truth. Though they left Pharaoh’s presence and went back to the other Leviim, they were still going to their “sivlos,” to their never-ending worry and emotional suffering over the physical suffering of the other shevatim.

    Reb Eliezer

    We find a similar idea when it says Vaykro (25,39) ki yamich achicha ‘imoch’, your brother became impoverished with you. Feel like you became poor with him. Be nosei beol im chavera, carry the yoke togeher with your friend.

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