Friday, December 26, 2014

Vayigash: In The Sound of A Thin Silence

By Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

In a famine, 10 brothers traverse a great distance for bread. After encountering Egypt's viceroy, who controls the food supply, everything spirals downward. Mishaps escalate into impending tragedy; they are arrested as spies, one brother is taken hostage, the youngest brother is accused of stealing, and that's just part of it. They wonder why this is happening as they ineffectively struggle to handle their situation.

When this powerful leader tells them who he is, "Ani Yosef" ("I am Joseph")
 their reality shifts, leaving them speechless. The Midrash Rabbah cryptically connects the brothers' reaction to Yosef's revelation with what each of us will experience when we meet our Maker (at age 120) saying, "Woe to us for the day of judgment, woe to us for the day of reproach." jj jjj
Rabbi Bernard Weinberger in his work, Shemen HaTov, posits that the brothers were speechless for a powerful reason. They had never, even as children, recognized  Yosef for who he really was. Long before his beard and position disguised his identity, Yosef was a mystery to his brothers. Unable to understand him, they reduced him to the one-dimensional. They decided he was a scoundrel, a threat, a daddy's boy, a potential murderer or worse, depending on the commentary. But who was Yosef?

The truth is that Yosef was a tzaddik. In fact, he was The Tzaddik. He is the paradigm of a tzaddik, our only ancestor that is always referenced with that title. The brothers didn't grasp Yosef's greatness for a long time. After the smoke cleared, after the years of anguish, in the moment of silence after Yosef revealed himself, they got it. This annoying younger brother of theirs was now the viceroy of Egypt and more so - he was clearly righteous and G-d fearing.

The Ohr HaChayim notes that twice in a row (Breishit45:3 and 4) Yosef tells his siblings who he is. In the second instance he adds that he is "Yosef, the brother whom you sold to Egypt." The Ohr HaChayim suggestsYosef was telling them, "I am who I always was - your brother who loves you. Even when you were pushing me away, I was your brother who loved you. The Ohr HaChayim also points out that Yosef shared with them one of those secrets endemic to all families, a fact that only he and his siblings knew. Then, there in the silence, they heard.

The brothers broke through the only way of thinking to which they had attached their minds. Yosef's unveiling provided his brothers with an awareness of his wholeness of being. In the past they had only seen his outer layer, represented by his coat. They now experienced an awakening and saw the full tapestry ofYosef.
The brothers experienced the same kind of silence which followed the whirlwind of sound, action, and fire in which Eliyahu HaNavi could not find G-d. Finally, in the kol demamah dahkah - what Rabbi Jonathan Sachs translates as "the sound of a thin silence," Eliyahuhears G-d and understands. (Melachim I - 19:12)@@
The Chafetz Chayim focuses on this paradigm shift that the brothers experienced, and says that it mirrors what will happen to each of us one day. When G-d reveals himself to us after we leave this physical world, we will view everything through a new perspective. This idea is in consonance with the illustration of the person who is presented with a gift of a gorgeous tapestry, or so he is told. But when he looks at the needlepoint picture he’s received he is confused because all he sees is loose ends and knots. The friend who gave him the gift tells him to turn it around. When he sees the breathtaking work of art on the other side, he realizes that he had been viewing the back, thus missing the beauty. The Torah tradition is that in this life we often only see part of the picture. This was the metaphorical message G-d presented Moshe with when he told him that he could view His back, but that in this life no man can see G-d head on.

The Tribes of Israel traversed a variety of great distances. In a unique moment of silence, the brothers saw Yosef. One day we will reach an end of our journey and we will see G-d's glory. We will gain complete understanding in retrospect, in a silent moment, after the lively whirlwinds that seemed so real have passed.
To the degree that it is possible now, may G-d bless us to find a quiet moment and in that silence experience the truth of G-d – “Ani Hashem.” Why wait?


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