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Adoni sha’al es avadav leimor, ha’yesh lachem av oh ach.” Yehuda says to Yosef, “You asked your servants, saying, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’” (Bereshis 44:19). In fact, Yosef never asked them that question in so many words.

According to Rashi (42:12) Yosef accused the ten brothers of being spies, because they entered Egypt through ten different gates, just like spies would do. It was in response to this accusation that the brothers themselves volunteered the information that they had a 130-year-old father who had already lost one of his sons and was fearful of losing his youngest remaining son. The brothers further explained that it was their father who had asked them to enter the city through ten different gates so as not to attract the attention of others, who might be envious of their powerful physiques and handsome looks and give them the evil eye. And, it was in response to this explanation that Yosef asked, “Oh, so you say you have an old father and a young brother and that is your alibi for entering through ten different gates? Well I don’t believe you; prove it to me by bringing your brother down to Egypt” (42:15).


In other words, even though Yosef did not explicitly ask, “Do you have a father or brother?” this question can be implied from the fact that Yosef accused them of being spies, because his intention was to prod them into admitting that they had a father and younger brother and to trap them into bringing Binyamin down to Egypt. That is the meaning of the word “leimor” (saying) in this context. It is a synonym of the word “kelomar,” it is, claims Yehuda, as if you asked us this question directly.

“And Yosef said to his brothers, I am Yosef, is my father still alive? And his brothers were so terrified, they could not respond” (45:3).

We know that one of the reasons that the brothers fanned out through ten gates was to look for Yosef (Rashi 42:13). So why were they terrified when they found him? They should have been overjoyed. The answer is given in the next sentence, “I am Yosef your brother whom you sold into Egypt” (45:4). I have always behaved to you like a brother, even now, when I recognized you and could have taken revenge and killed you.

It was the guilt that the brothers now felt for not having behaved in the same brotherly way to Yosef when he fell into their hands that now terrified them. “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw his anguish when he begged us for mercy and we would not hear” (42:21). The brothers could not understand how they could have behaved to him in that way, it what so uncharacteristic of them. Weren’t they the ones that went to war to save their sister Dina?

Yosef comforts them. You have to understand, he says. “It was not you that sent me here, it was G-d” (45:8) “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves that you sold me here, for G-d sent me ahead of you to save you from the famine” (45:5-6). Your actions were being controlled by G-d in order that you and the people of Israel should not perish. Sometimes, in order to achieve His goal, G-d takes over the minds of wise men and makes their thinking foolish: “Meishiv chachamim achor vdaatam yisakel” (Yishayahu 44:25).

Is my father still alive? Of course Yosef knew his father was still alive, the brothers had told him that several times. But what he meant was, does my father still believe I am alive or has he given me and our relationship up for dead? If he thinks I am dead, he might eventually forget about me, but if he believes I am still alive, the father and son relationship lives on (Rashi 37:35). In fact, whenever Yaakov mentioned Yosef, he never referred to him as having died, but rather as having been wounded, “tarof toraf Yosef” (37:33), or as having gone missing, “Yosef einenu” (42:36).

“And he fell on his brother Binyamin’s neck and wept and Binyamin wept on his neck” (45:14). Rashi explains that they cried over the two Temples that were destined to be built in Binyamin’s territory and ultimately destroyed. Yosef and Binyamin felt that the trait of sinas chinam, senseless hatred that the brothers felt for each other, would become embedded in the Jewish psyche for generations and ultimately lead to the destructions of both temples.

To each of the brothers he gave two changes of clothing but to Binyamin he gave five changes of clothing (45:22). How could Yosef, who knew the consequences of favoritism, repeat the same mistake with his brothers? But Yosef was not showing favoritism; rather he was sending his brothers a different message. “Why are you jealous of me? Why do you say, Why is Yosef a ruler, why not I? Why don’t you understand that I, Yosef have taken upon myself the burdens of public service for your benefit? Why don’t you celebrate the fact that by doing so, I have saved you time so that you can now devote yourselves to studying Torah and being with your families, instead of laboring under the endless task of tending to the public’s needs? Learn from the gratitude of the Jews in the time of Mordechai. They were happy for him when he became a ruler and emerged from the palace of Achashverosh clothed in five royal garments. “And Mordechai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel …and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad (Esther 8:15, Megillah 16b).

“And they told Yaakov, Yosef is still alive and he rules over the land of Egypt, but Yaakov doubted it in his heart for he did not believe them” (45:26). But when he saw the agalos, the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, his spirit was revived, and Yaakov said, My son Yosef is still alive” (45:26-28). What was it about the wagons that brought about Yaakov’s change of heart?

We are told that just before Yosef was sent to his brothers in Shechem, he studied with this father the Torah chapter of eglah arufah, the calf which the elders must slaughter when they find the corpse of a victim lying between two cities, slain by an unidentified killer. The elders of the cities must declare, “Our hands have not spilled this blood,” (Devarim 21:7). “Would anyone suspect the elders of killing the victim?” asks the Gemara (Sotah 45b). Rather what the elders are saying is we did not let the victim leave our town without accompaniment, “lo hinachnuhu b’lo l’vayah.”

No harm will befall someone who is accompanied on his way out of town. Murderers would rather target someone who leaves town unaccompanied than someone who is accompanied by people who care about him and will look for him if he goes missing.

When Yaakov sent Yosef from Hebron to seek out his brothers in Shechem, he remembered the lesson of the eglah arufah that they had just studied together and he accompanied him part of the way, as it says, “V”ayishlachehu m’emek Chevron” (37:14). The verb lishloach is typically translated by the Targum to meanlevayah , to accompany.

That is why Yosef evaded the death that his brothers plotted against him. Only Yosef could have remembered that his father accompanied him on that occasion. That is why Yaakov only believed the brothers when he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent as a sign, that he was alive.

Yaakov steps into the wagons sent by Yosef to take him to Egypt, but he still has his fears. He hopes G-d will tell him, like he told his father Yitzchak before him, “Don’t go down to Egypt, stay in this land of Cana’an” (26:2-3). That is why he stopped the wagons on his way down to Egypt and offered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Yitzchak. But G-d tells him something else. “Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt for I will make you into great nation there (46:3-4). “Anochi eireid imcha Mitzrayma, v’Anochi a’alcha gam aloh” – I will go down with you into Egypt and I will take you out of there. It is the giving of the Ten Commandments which begin with the same word “anochi” that will turn you into a great nation and that will only happen after you leave Egypt. As it says: “Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha mei’Eretz Mitrayim” (Shemos 20:2).


These highlights from the Parsha Shiur of Haga’on Harav Dovid Feinstein Zt”l, are presented by Raphael Grunfeld, a partner in the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP., who received Semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav, Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, Zt”l, and who attended his weekly Parshah Shiur for twenty years.


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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to