Vort from the Rav: Vayechi
הֲתַחַת אֱ-לֹהִים אַָֽנִי
for am I in the place of God?
The Rav provides two interpretations for Joseph’s use of this phrase in response to his brothers’ fears that he would take revenge upon them:
1) Asking forgiveness of God and forgiveness from man are fundamentally different categories of request, requiring different approaches and different wording. The brother’s exhortation of אָנָא שָא נָא פֶשַע אַחֶיךָ was phrased in wording similar to that of the Kohen Gadol: אָנָא…כַפֶר נָא (Yoma 35b), a vidui (confession) that can only properly be addressed to God. Such phrasing is inappropriate in a request for mechilah (pardon) of fellow man, since the vidui wording connotes absolute self-indictment, indicating that God is completely right while the sinner is completely wrong. In disputes between fellow man, employing such absolutes is improper. In asking mechilah of fellow man, one should word the request for forgiveness differently: “I did wrong – please forgive me.” Because the brothers addressed Joseph using the language of vidui, Joseph responded that it was inappropriate for them to address him in this way, since such phrasing is reserved for God alone.
2) Although the written law contains the prescription of “an eye for an eye,” the oral law interprets this statement to signify monetary compensation only. Why is the wording in the written law so misleading? Because there is in fact no true restitution for causing the loss of an eye. On a strictly moral plane, the offender indeed deserves retaliation in kind for imparting such incalculable pain and suffering. On a practical level, however, no court is allowed to impose such a penalty. Thus, when the brothers expressed concern that Joseph would retaliate in kind for his years of slavery and exile, Joseph responded that such vengeance can only be exacted by God. On a judicial level such a verdict is halachically precluded (Boston 1979).
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