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Shabbat schedule - Friday - Shabbat, December 18-19, 2015

Torah Reading: Vayigash Genesis 44:18 - 47:27
Haftorah: Zachariah 2:14 - 4:7

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 4:12 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:17 PM

Halachic Times:
Earliest Tefillin: 6:29 AM (latest of the week)
Latest Shma: 9:22 AM (earliest of the week)


Joseph’s Revelation

In one of the most poignant events recorded in the Torah, Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, is finally ready to divulge his identity to his brothers.

The Torah introduces his revelation that he is their brother whom they sold into slavery with the following words:

Now Joseph could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him, so he called out, “Remove everyone from before me!” Thus no man remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He cried in a loud voice. Egypt heard, and Pharaoh’s household heard.

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?”

Many questions arise when we examine this powerful incident.

First, why did he want everyone else to leave?

Rashi explains that Joseph didn’t want the Egyptian members of his household to see how his brothers would be embarrassed.

Rashbam explains that Joseph realized that he would not be able to control his emotions in public as he had done so successfully in the past. The suggestion here is that he, as a monarch, could not allow himself to weep in public.

Ramban explains further that Joseph did not want the Egyptians to know that his brothers sold him into slavery.

However, we still need to understand why the fact that he wanted the Egyptians to leave, was crucial to the story.

Second, after recounting that Joseph ordered everyone out of his presence, why does the Torah add, “Thus no man remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” Is it not self-evident that his orders would be carried out by the Egyptians? At the very least, the Torah could have stated succinctly, “and they all left.”

Third, if everyone departed how was it that Egypt and Pharaoh’s household heard his cry?

Fourth, why does the Torah repeat Joseph’s name in the verse, “Thus no man remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers?” Why not use the pronoun “him” and state “…no man remained with him when he made himself known to his brothers.”

Every story in the Torah has to teach us a moral lesson and every detail is important. What does Joseph’s revelation to his brothers tell us?

The Human Being: A Two Tiered Communicator

Human beings are known as midaber, speakers or communicators. What makes us unique in this world is not our intelligence but our ability to communicate.

This raises an obvious question: Animals, even birds and plants, also communicate. While they do not have vocal chords they still communicate through other means. Why then do we describe only human beings as midaber?

It is not sufficient to answer that our level of communication is unique because it is far more intelligent and sophisticated. If that were the case, humans should have been called sichli, an intelligent being. After all, it’s not communication per se that makes us unique; it is the intelligent aspect of our communication skills that does.

The answer lies in the two modes of human communication:

The first mode of speech occurs when we are in a public setting, whether teaching students, conversing socially or just chatting with friends. The presence of an audience makes us sensitive to what others will think and say about our spoken words. One who speaks, consciously or unconsciously, tailors his words to please his audience, and, at the very least, no one within hearing should be offended or turned off by the remarks.

In effect, public forums inhibit our ability to bear our souls and reveal our true inner selves.

This mode of public speech is primarily utilitarian. It gets us what we want to get. The benefit may be accolades we receive from listeners or some concrete favor, or just the pleasure of being in a social setting. It does not, however, reveal the true essence of our being.

This mode of communication is, qualitatively speaking, not much different from the communication skills of other species. They too communicate for utilitarian purposes; to get their food, to protect their brood or to defend themselves. Obviously, the content of human speech is frequently more profound and more interesting than that of other species, but fundamentally it is not very different. This is not the mode of speech that distinguishes us from other creatures.

There is a much deeper form of speech, which differentiates us from all other of G‑d’s creations. It is the form of speech that has the capacity to reveal our inner being; our very soul. This mode of speech is what makes us eminently human.

Prayer: the Ultimate Form of Human Speech

The ultimate expression of the human capacity for genuine and unmitigated self-expression is prayer. Prayer is sometimes referred to as nefesh, which means soul. This is based on the paradigmatic prayer of Chanah: “I poured out my soul before G‑d.” Prayer, in its ideal and unadulterated form, expresses the innermost feelings and aspirations that emanate from the depths of the human soul.

The Talmud (Bava Kamma 3b), in discussing the meaning of the word maveh, cites an opinion that it means a human being. To prove this assertion it cites a verse in the Book of Isaiah (21:12) which discusses one who beseeches G‑d for Redemption: “Says the watchman; morning comes, and also night; if you beseech [tivayun], beseech.” The word for beseeching in this verse is etymologically related to the word “maveh.” Thus, according to our Sages, a human being is a beseecher; one who prays is one who beseeches and prays, and more specifically, one who prays for the Redemption.

This is precisely what we mean when we refer to man as a midaber-communicator. What qualifies us to be considered fully human? It is when we allow the deepest sentiments and aspirations of our soul to come to the fore through the medium of speech. The most powerful expression of the soul is channeled through the medium of speech, not thought or action.


Humans have physical needs that often eclipse the soul’s desire for expression. We also have inhibitions that cause us to conceal our innermost feelings. The reticence about venting our true emotions through speech is greatest when we are in the company of others. This explains why many mystics prefered praying in seclusion. This assisted them in getting in touch with their true essence.

This also explains why the Talmud says that a person without a home is missing an aspect of his or her humanity. This was not intended to shame poor people who cannot afford a home. Rather it is the Talmud’s way of getting us to appreciate what a home does for our dignity. To be human (midaber) in the fullest sense of the word one must be capable of shedding all inhibitions and be free to express one’s innermost feelings. Otherwise one’s soul is in a virtual prison. A home is where we can be ourselves, thus enabling us to communicate on a human level.

Joseph’s Desire for Redemption

We can now understand why Joseph wanted all the Egyptians in his court to leave.

Joseph was about to communicate his deepest feelings of connection with his brothers and reconnect with his father as well. Joseph did not want this communication to be on a stage as it would have watered down the intensity of the experience. He wanted his communication to be totally human because he would be able to bare all of his soul’s passion.

Moreover, Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers was a portent of the ultimate Redemption when there will be a total rapprochement of all segments of Jewry, as represented by the two kingdoms of Joseph (Ephraim) and Judah mentioned in this week’s prophetic selection, the Haftarah. Joseph’s words were thus more than just prayerful. Underlying Joseph’s cry to his brothers was his desire for unity and Redemption. Even as the Egyptian exile was beginning, Joseph was laying the groundwork for, and planting the seeds of, the unity that is synonymous with Redemption.

We can now understand why asking the Egyptians to leave was crucial to the narrative. They represented the forces of exile. He didn’t want his expression of love and solidarity with his brothers, which represents Redemption, to be tainted in any way by watering down his soul’s passion for unity.

This also tells us why the Torah adds, “Thus no man remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” Two questions we raised above remain unanswered: wasn’t it self-evident that the Egyptians left after being ordered by Joseph to do so; and why does the Torah repeat Josephs’ name?

Upon deeper reflection, we realize that this was to underscore that the Egyptians’ departure was not just a physical change of location; it represented a total change of the prevailing narrative in that room. They moved their intrusive inhibiting presence out of the Redemptive soul of Joseph. With his outburst and cry, Joseph here made himself, his essence and core, known to his brothers. He was not just talking to them, in his “pronoun-ian” state, this was speaking to them in his essential Joseph state.

And this also answers another question raised above, that if everyone departed how was it that everyone still heard his cry?

The answer is powerful. When one expresses his or her innermost cry for Redemption it reverberates throughout the cosmos and has an impact on the entire world. Everyone can feel the “fallout” from the “nuclear” explosion that is the passion for Moshiach.

We are living at the tail end of the process that began with Joseph. Sefer Yetzirah, the early work of Kabbalah states, “the end is wedged in the beginning, and the beginning in the end.” We must now give voice to our deepest sentiments by crying out to G‑d, “ad masai- how much longer?” even as we seek unity with our fellow Jews and reconcile and reunite with our Father in heaven.

When we use our human power of speech in its most pristine and powerful form our cries will reverberate throughout the entire world. All nations of the world will also clamor for Moshiach and the final Redemption, when true peace will reign.

Moshiach Matters:

G‑d will press for the coming of the Messianic redemption. The Jews are tired of exile. Furthermore, since "I am with them in difficulty," i.e., G‑d empathizes with the Jews and shares their suffering in exile, as it were, He also cannot bear the exile any longer. Particularly after the sufferings of the last generation - May they never be repeated - it is time for the Jews, together with G‑d Himself, to demand the coming of Moshiach. May it be in the immediate future.