“All his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be consoled …” (Bereishis 37:35)
After dipping Yosef’s shirt into blood, the brothers bring the shirt to Yaakov, who concludes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. But the pasuk then tells us, that “Yaakov refused to be consoled.”
When Aharon HaKohen lost his two sons, the pasuk says (Vayikra 10:3), “And Aharon was silent.” He accepted the Heavenly decree and was consoled. We learn that he was rewarded for recognizing the Divine will.
It is difficult to say that Yaakov Avinu did not accept the Heavenly decree with love. How can we understand the pasuk?
The medrash explains that Yaakov Avinu said to himself: I always thought I was a tzaddik, however now it’s clear to me that I am an evil person. What made him think so? We cannot say that he inferred this from the fact that he was tested. After all, the medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 32:3) states clearly that Hashem tests the tzaddik …” What flaw did Yaakov perceive in himself?
R’ Yonasan Eybeschutz expounds that when Yaakov Avinu sent Yosef to look for his brothers, he knew that the brothers hated Yosef. With awareness of their animosity, how could Yaakov have thrust Yosef into a dangerous situation?
In truth, when Yaakov sent Yosef on his mission, he instructed him (Bereishis 37:14), “Go look into the welfare of your brothers … and bring me back word…” He appointed him a shliach mitzvah – an emissary committed to do a mitzvah, which had two elements. He was to inquire after the well-being of his brothers, and he was to report his findings back to Yaakov. The Talmud (Pesachim 8b) states, “Those on the path to perform a mitzvah are not susceptible to harm, neither when they go, nor when they return.” The Rif comments there that although the emissary may not be harmed on the way to doing the mitzvah, he could be harmed upon his return. Yosef, though, had a two-fold mission, and the mitzvah was only completed when he returned and relayed the information to Yaakov. So how could he be harmed on his return?
There is a discussion between the Tur and the Rambam concerning kibbud av (honoring one’s father) when the father is evil. According to the Rambam, if the father is a rasha there is no mitzvah to give him honor. Yaakov speculated that perhaps Yosef’s misfortune indicated that he, Yaakov, was not a tzaddik, which would preclude any obligation on Yosef’s part to honor his father and he would no longer be in the category of a shliach mitzvah leaving him vulnerable to any mishap.
Yaakov could not be comforted because he was distressed by the thought that Yosef had been harmed because of him. It was only when it was revealed to Yaakov that Yosef was still alive that Yaakov was reassured that he was righteous.
Our sages tell us (Brachos 28b) that when R’ Yochanan ben Zakkai was ill his students came to visit him, he began to cry. When they asked him why he was crying he said: If I was being judged by a king of flesh and blood who is here today and dead tomorrow, whose anger is not eternal, I would cry. Now I will be judged by the King of all kings who lives and exists forever, whose anger is eternal. I have two paths before me – Gan Eden and Gehinnom – and I do not know where I will be taken. Will I not cry?
The Alter of Kelm asks: Why did R’ Yochanan only cry when he saw his students? Had they not come, would he not have cried? The Alter says that R’ Yochanan knew that he had fulfilled the entire Torah. However, when he saw his students it prompted him to cry. He was troubled that perhaps, as a rebbi/teacher who bears responsibility for his students, he had not properly fulfilled his obligation, and he would be held accountable in the Heavenly court.
I had been invited to a wedding at a venue that was a five-hour trip from home, and I was looking forward to participating. When I arrived at the hotel, my hosts excitedly informed me that HaGaon Rav Simcha Wasserman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Or Elchonon, would be able to join the wedding party and would be arriving shortly. The hosts were aware of my close relationship with the rosh yeshiva and knew that I would be elated at the news.
Sure enough, R’ Simcha entered the hotel within the hour, and all the guests enthusiastically ran to greet him. I had the privilege of sitting with him until the chuppah, and he – already in his eighties – proceeded to discuss with me a number of pressing issues facing the Jewish community.
Shortly before the chuppah was scheduled to begin, the host requested that the two of us serve as eidim (witnesses) for the kesubah. I noticed that R’ Simcha was extremely meticulous about certain technicalities in the kesubah, to ensure that the kesubah was precisely executed according to halacha.
As we prepared to leave after the chuppah, R’ Simcha put his hand on my shoulder and remarked, “You realize that we now both bear responsibility.”
I looked at him questioningly, and he explained: “We are witnesses on the kesubah, and we are now responsible for this couple. It is our obligation to follow this married couple through life, as to their health and welfare, and to make sure that everything is “in accordance with the laws of Moshe and Yisrael.” I thought to myself how many people serve as eidim at a wedding, are teachers and rebbeim, supervisors, counselors and mentors. Do we realize that the responsibility is not just for the moment, rather a lifetime obligation?