Meiketz – Torah Themes

Parshas Miketz

Full Faith

Yosef was thrown into jail for 12 years. Ten years were a punishment for brining a negative report to his father about his 10 brothers and 2 years were for the two words that Yosef said to the butler, asking him ‘zachartani… v’hizkartani, remember me and mention me to Pharoah’ instead of relying on Hashem (Yalkut Reuveni quoting Midrash).

Many people have struggled to explain what Yosef did wrong, is one not required to do histadlus, human effort, to help the process along? The simple answer, given by Malbim and based on the Midrash itself is that indeed, Yosef’ sin was not in action, it was in the realm of intent. His actions may have been justified, but the criticism is on that which he was thinking in his mind and feeling in his heart at that moment. On his level, he was expected to be focusing on how Hashem was the One Who would save him and that the butler was just a messenger, however, Yosef’s sin was that for a moment, he actually placed some of his faith in the messenger himself.

Who is Responsible?

The sale of Yosef down to Egypt is something that is most difficult to understand as we read through the parshios this time of year. We are talking about the great twelve great tribe leaders of Israel who were pure tzaddikim, righteous men. We find in Chazal that they were punished for their actions many generations later. The Ten Martyrs were killed on account of the balance of this sin. This is one major question that begs to be asked: How does the number 10 come to be the representation of those to blame when only 9 brothers sold Yosef?

The Punishment

Various sources (Yalkut Reuveni, quoting Midrashim; Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av machzor) tell us that the Roman king and government announced that no punishment was ever given to the brothers for their sale of Yosef in which they had bought shoes with the money. They filled up the palace with shoes and summoned a number of rabbis to be executed. The Romans stated that the Torah itself says that one who kidnaps and is caught is to be executed. The rabbis inquired of Heaven about the nature of the decree and were told that either ten of the greatest rabbis would be killed or thousands of Jews would be taken instead. The rabbis accepted the decree and some of the greatest rabbis the world ever saw were executed. This took place over the course of many years and in the end ten rabbis were killed: Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Yismael Kohen Gadol, Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, Rabbi Yehuda ben Bava, Yisheivav HaSofer, Rabbi Chaninah ben Teradyon, Rabbi Eliezer ben Dama, Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinia, Chutzpis HaMiturgiman and Rabbi Eliezer ben Shamu (Rabbeinu Bechaya, there are other sources and some disputed details).

The Question

We cannot fathom neither the brother’s actions nor the result of the Ten Martyrs’ deaths, we can simply try to learn the lessons being taught here. The bomb question on this all is that there were 12 brothers in total, however, not all of them were involved with the sale. Yosef was the victim, Binyomin, his brother was not present, and nor was Reuven, who in fact tried to save Yosef. This means that at most 9 people were responsible? How did it come to be that 10 Martyrs were required?

Three Answers

1st Approach: Rabbeinu Bechaya asks this question and he states that the 10th culprit was Yosef himself. Yosef told over his dreams to his brothers and was involved in the animosity between them and thus he also required forgiveness. We see from this just how careful we must be to distance ourselves from a fight.

2nd Approach: The Shlah explains that Reuven was a culprit as well. Reuven should have pulled Yosef out of the pit and brought him home to his father. Even though Reuven initiated the saving process and spared Yosef from death, he was still accountable because of the fact that he did not finish his job. Rabbeinu Bechaya suggests that Reuven can perhaps be the missing culprit but not on account of the sale. Reuven had sinned with the incident involving Bilha and thus needed forgiveness for this.

3rd Approach: The Arizal states that neither Yosef nor Reuven needed forgiveness. The brothers determined that Yosef was trying to push them off and kick them out of the Jewish nation. They viewed him as one trying to kill them, but they needed ten judges in order to decide that Yosef deserved to be removed from among them. Since they were only 9 as Reuven, Binyomin and Yosef were excluded, they included Hashem so to speak in a prophetic manner as part of their vote of ten. Thus, Hashem Himself so to speak wished to achieve a forgiveness. This was brought about by Rebbe Akiva who died uttering the words, “Shema… Hashem is One.” The Ten Martyrs achieved a great advancement in bring Mashiach closer and restoring peace in the nation.

Poverty Leading to Real Wealth

Yalkut Reuveni quotes a Midrash Shmuel which says that we find each of the Avos experienced a famine at some time in their life. In our parsha, Yaakov experienced a famine and sent his sons down to Egypt to get food. The Midrash asks, “why did the Avos experience times of famine? In order to merit to have Torah emanating from their children.” What is this all about?

The Gemera in Nedarim (81a) says, “be careful with the sons of paupers, because from them emanates Torah.” The Ran (there) explains two reasons for this, 1) they have no other involvements and so they dedicate their time to study and 2) they are very humble.

The experience of not having is very humbling and it wakes a person up regarding purpose in life. One who has all that his heart desires is never challenged to think about purpose. One who is lacking, will begin to think, “why is it this way, how can I get what I need?” He will begin to understand that life has purpose.

Hashem tested the Avos, and test all of us, in order to help bring out our dormant greatness. Tests elevate us and push us to new heights and achievements (Ramban). That is the depth behind the Midrash above which says that Hashem challenged the Avos with a time of poverty in order to make them great.

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