Revealing the Hidden Plan

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Lessons on Jewish Persecution from Parshat Vayigash

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, recounts Yosef revealing himself to his brothers after years of exile and hardship, imparting a timeless lesson for the ongoing struggles of the Jewish people. Much like Yosef’s constant trials, we navigate from one challenge to another, often facing prolonged periods of isolation. In the story of Yosef’s brothers, a profound understanding dawns when he declares, “I am Yosef.” This proclamation serves as a sign for a future day when Israel’s tribulations will be illuminated by a Divine declaration of “I am Hashem.” Clarity will emerge, shedding light on the hardships of the past.  

At the beginning of Vayigash portion, Yehudah pleads with Yosef, expressing concern that their father cannot bear the loss of Binyamin:

Now, therefore, when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life; it shall come to pass when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the grey hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to Sheol” (Bereshis 44:30-31).

וְעַתָּה, כְּבֹאִי אֶל-עַבְדְּךָ אָבִי, וְהַנַּעַר, אֵינֶנּוּ אִתָּנוּ; וְנַפְשׁוֹ, קְשׁוּרָה בְנַפְשׁוֹ.  לא וְהָיָה, כִּרְאוֹתוֹ כִּי-אֵין הַנַּעַר–וָמֵת; וְהוֹרִידוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶת-שֵׂיבַת עַבְדְּךָ אָבִינוּ, בְּיָגוֹן–שְׁאֹלָה. (בראשית מד, ל, לא).

Finally, after Yehudah takes responsibility, Yosef breaks down and reveals his true  identity to his brothers:

I am Yosef (Bereshis 45:1-3). 

וְלֹא יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק… וַיִּתֵּן אֶת קֹלוֹ בִּבְכִי… וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי יוֹסֵף (בראשית מה: א-ג).

Picture the thoughts racing through the brothers’ minds when Yosef utters those words. Suddenly, everything became clear. Over the past twenty years, they’ve faced countless hardships – their father left heartbroken, refusing to be comforted; famine striking the land, compelling them to journey to Egypt for sustenance; encountering an Egyptian ruler who perceives them as spies and persecutes them. Their troubles escalate to the point of imprisonment, and eventually, their brother Simeon becomes a hostage, with the demand that they bring their youngest brother to Egypt. The brothers must persuade their father Yaakov to agree to send Binyamin to Egypt as stipulated by the ruler. After Yaakov permits Binyamin to go, Yosef entangles him in a scheme by orchestrating the theft of his own goblet, leading to Binyamin being caught with the cup in his possession.

The brothers must have pondered, struggling to comprehend their plight and asking themselves, “Why are we suffering so much?” They could not fathom what was happening to them. Then, with two words – “I am Yosef” – understanding flooded in, and they saw the complete picture, their past afflictions became clear. Twenty-two years of familial torment unfolded in an instant. Reflecting once more on their father, on Egypt, and on the injustice they had caused to Yosef, confusion dissipated in an enlightening moment of comprehension.

In this week’s Haftarah portion, G-d tells Yechezkel to unite the tribes of Yosef and Yehudah, mirroring the weekly Torah portion. There is an additional connection. At the end of the Haftarah, G-d prophesies about a future redemption:

“and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.” Then the nations will know “I am the Lord”… (Yechezkel 37:27-28).  

והייתי להם לאלוקים, והמה יהיו לי לעם”. אז העמים ידעו “אני ה'”… (יחזקאל לז, כז-כח)”

These words echo, in a sense, our Torah portion. Instead of “I am Yosef,” we hear in the Haftarah “I am Hashem.”   

An exile that has lasted thousands of years. Generations of Jews who do not understand – why are we suffering so much? We have been encountering exiles, pogroms, persecutions, the Holocaust, and even now, as Israel wages an existential war for survival against enemies sworn to annihilate it, antisemitism has returned to the world – a world that calls itself progressive, a world that cannot find it ‘in its soul’ to stand with the Jewish people in their struggle against genocide.

Is this the destiny of the chosen people, chosen for what – to suffer and die? The suffering of the Jewish people cries out for a clear and long view. There have been thousands and millions of Jews who did not understand the tragic history of Jewish persecution. Yet the day will come when the Jewish people will awaken with two words – “I am Hashem” – then the clarity will echo to all, with the end of our bitter exile. Just as “I am Yosef” sudden understanding flooded in and answered the brothers’ anguish, so too hearing “I am Hashem” will help us understand our traumatic past. The full picture became clear.   

The Navi Yechezkel in this weeks Haftarah indicates that we will look back and say “Now we understand” why a unique history befell the Jews, and why Israel struggles today against its modern enemies sworn to annihilate it.

With this explanation we can understand why Parshas Vayigash starts in the middle of the story, and why we do not finish the previous Parsha Miketz with Yosef revealing himself, starting the next Parsha from that moment on? The Torah teaches us a timeless lesson. This intentional break in the story teaches us that understanding takes time. The pause suggests that what seems troubling now might have a deeper, purposeful plan unfolding as events progress.

In Bereshisi 43:6, when Yaakov says, “lamah ha’reiosem li,” expressing his distress at the harm done to him, the Midrash Rabah (91:10) highlights a DDivine response rebuking Yaakov for complaining. Hashem rhetorically questions Yaakov with indicating that the situation is part of a larger plan:

ויאמר ישראל למה הרעותם לי …” מעולם לא אמר יעקב אבינו דבר של בטלה, אלא כך אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: אני עוסק להמליך את בנו”
במצרים, והוא אומר: למה הרעותם לי! (מדרש רבה בראשית מ”ג)

So even now, when we still cannot see the full picture, let us strengthen ourselves with the faith that “הטוב כי לא כלו רחמיך Hashem’s compassion is never withheld.” We will know the word of G-d and understand that in the future, all the persecutions of the Jews will be clear to us, helping us understand from a broad and inclusive view and understanding. Just as Yosef’s brothers eventually understood his persecutions from a Divine perspective, we too will understand the meaning of Jewish suffering throughout history, as Hashem’s plan unfolds.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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