Parshas Vayigash: Respect for Another

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

As we learn the story of יוסף הצדיק, we are taught to the extent it’s possible and the grave importance for one to value the dignity of another.

In בראשית יב:טו, chapter 39:12-15, the Torah tells us that “…she caught hold of him by his garment (יוסף, Joseph)… But he left his garment in her hand and ran outside… She then used his garment in her possession to accuse him of trying to violate her.

Why didn’t Yosef grab his garment from her? It’s obvious that she could accuse him and in turn he would suffer grave consequences. (He actually was sentenced to be placed in jail – where he spent 12 years.)

The Rishonim teach us that to overpower a woman robs her dignity. He therefore out of respect for his master’s wife – he slipped out of it and ran outside. (This follows the explanation of רבינו בחיי, the Ramban seems to say it was out of respect to his master, her husband, that he treated her with dignity.)

יוסף הצדיק, Yosef put his life in danger due to his treating all with the dignity and nobility that each person, who is a צלם אלוקים, a creation of Hashem, deserves.

Yosef teaches us that if one mitigates their sense of human dignity, even though in this case where the other is at fault and desires to do a terrible action, nevertheless it would compromise his cultivated great degree of respect and reverence of human nobility.

In פרשת מקץ, Genesis chapter 41, we learn of the dreams of Pharaoh and his subsequent anxiety due to the dreams not interpreted by his “wise man”. The שר המשקים, Chamberlain of Cupbearers, advises to ask the, “Hebrew youth, a slave…” to try to interpret the dream.He represented Yosef as a “kid”, though he was thirty years old, a servant, a Hebrew – all derogatory terms that would preclude him from attaining any noteworthy position.

Nevertheless, Pharaoh calls for him and he immediately is rushed from the dungeon. Pharaoh can’t wait, the pain, anguish, uncertainty is “driving him crazy!” Despite this, the Torah says that, “he (Yosef) shaved and changed his clothes.” How can he? The king is anxiously waiting for him?

For it would be completely insulting, belittling, and demeaning to the king to present himself in a disheveled manner. Though he might engender the ire and fury of the king, nevertheless he felt an obligation to present himself with respect.

יוסף הצדיק, Yosef teaches us that one of the most critical, essential traits that a person needs to possess is unmitigated dignity and nobility for oneself and for another. By compromising it, Yosef, was concerned that he would jeopardize and endanger his innate respect of Hashem which is manifested by one’s treating all with absolute dignity.

In this week’s פרשה, we are taught the manner in which one can rectify an acrimonious situation. Yosef reveals himself to his brothers. We can only try to fathom and imagine the shock they were in. And even moreso, their trepidation that Yosef, the viceroy of the world’s empire, can take revenge against them.

Yosef wants to mollify them. He immediately says to them (verse 4), “I am Yosef, your brother who you sold me to Egypt.” Is that the way to placate them? He then says, “Don’t be distressed or reproach yourselves that you sold me, for to be your provider Hashem sent me here.” If one wants to truly calm or appease another, one must convey to another that I am aware completely of your uncertain agitation and apprehension, I will immediately address it. For otherwise the one who conducted themselves inappropriately will feel that the other harbors resentment.

Yosef, then with certainty, tells them, “This is all the orchestration of Hashem; you actually saved the family by doing this. The Medrash says that he was also saying to them; “My dearest father and you all would have otherwise been forced to journey to Egypt in chains due to the ברית בין הבתרים, but now due to me being the viceroy of Egypt, you can come here with tranquility.” I will see to it that you have your own “district” (Goshen) to settle in, thereby protecting yourselves from assimilation.

This lesson of the guidance of Hashem, protected us for many centuries in Europe. We were forced to live in ghettos, which protected us from the negative influence of the nations of the world.

From the time of the Emancipation we have been greatly challenged due to our total immersion in a society that is completely the opposite of our aims, goals, and obligations. As Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains, we lived in a גלות, akin to that of Yaakov Avinu, separate from the world. Today we are challenged to live as Yitzchok Avinu, who was respected, lived amongst the Philistines and to constantly be cognizant of the tremendous challenge.

We have reached the zenith of this challenge in today’s society. May Hashem enable us to succeed and to take us to the final step; the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.

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