1.

When Yosef’s brothers came to Egypt, he concealed his identity, and it could be said he played a “hide and seek” game with them. As their encounter continued on, he finally opened up and revealed himself to them by saying “Ani Yosef” — “I am Yoseph.” The Torah relates that they were speechless and confused (42:3).

The first thing he did to prove his Jewish identity was to show that he was circumcised. Afterwards he conciliated his brothers that it was an act of hashgachah pratit — Divine Providence — that he ended up in Egypt.

All this time the brothers stood dumbfounded before him. Yosef was apprehensive that they still might be doubtful about his true identity. Wanting to reassure them again that he was really Yosef, he made another attempt which turned out to be final and successful. He said to them “Vehinei eineichem ro’ot — “Behold your eyes see [as do the eyes of my brother Binyamin] ki pi hamedabeir aleichem” — that it is my mouth that is speaking to you” (45:12).

Most commentators say that Yosef pointed out that he was speaking “lashon kodesh” — Hebrew — a language that was unspoken in Egypt (see Rashi).

There are many who question, how does this prove he was Jewish? Undoubtedly the ruling authorities and commercial class knew Hebrew, the language of a neighboring country. (In contemporary Israel, many Arabs who live in non-Jewish cities and do business with the Jews speak Hebrew.)

Another difficulty raised is why was this so convincing? When Yosef conversed with his brothers the Torah states that “hameilitz beinotam” — “an interpreter was between them (42:23).” They spoke to him in Hebrew and he spoke Egyptian, and there was a person who interpreted their dialogue. True they now heard for the first time that Yosef knew Hebrew, but this was not totally unheard of since there was also another person in Egypt that spoke Hebrew — the interpreter?

If the convincing factor was his Hebrew dialect, in lieu of saying “Vehinei eineichem ro’ot” — “Behold your eyes see” — Yosef should have said “Vehinei azneichem shomot” — “Behold your ears hear”? (Rashi explains that this refers to his being circumcised. However, this is somewhat difficult, because he had already given circumcision for identification, so why repeat it again now?)

My dear Bar Mitzvah, because of these difficulties I would like to share with you and all assembled a novel p’shat — explanation.

The brothers had no doubt whatsoever that the person who was speaking to them and introduced himself as Yosef was indeed their lost brother Yosef. However, seeing the glory he achieved and the prominence he acquired throughout the entire land of Egypt, they were apprehensive and confused about him. Was he now merely their biological brother, or did he still share their ideas, ideals and convictions about Torah and Yiddishkeit?

In an endeavor to persuade them that he was Jewish he showed that he was circumcised. This, however, did not still their fear and concerns. True he was circumcised at birth, and has an indelible perpetual Jewish sign, but how could they know that he did not assimilate?

So he began to speak lashon hakodesh. He spoke it fluently and articulately which seems to say that he was up to date with his native tongue. This too, however, did not provide them the answer to what they were seeking. Perhaps he had a good memory and remembered it from his youth, displaying his great linguistic prowess.

Finally he said to them “your eyes see — proof that I am continuing in a traditional way — is from the fact that ki pi — that my mouth — i.e. my language — [is the same as] hamedabeir aleichem — the one who was speaking to you.” That is, the one that was speaking is my son and his dialect is the same as mine. There is no “generation gap” between us. What is holy to me is also holy to him. Not only am I living the lifestyle I was trained in by my father, but I also transmitted to my son lashon hakodesh — the language of holiness– so he would know how a Torah-oriented Jew needs to speak and live.

Seeing before them the way he raised his children in Egypt, they were now convinced beyond any iota of doubt that he was Yosef, and was their brother not only in pedigree but also in spirit and conviction. He was indeed the righteous son of Yaakov AvinuJacob their father.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, as I stand here, I am thrilled to see you that you speak the Torah language of your parents and grandparents. Like Yosef of old they made every effort that even here in America — the Egypt of Diaspora — you should emulate them and continue on in the ways and spirit of Yisrael Sava — the authentic ways of the father of Klal Yisrael — Yaakov Avinu.

Seeing the generations of Torah scholars present tonight brings to mind the Gemara (Bava Metzia 85a) “If someone is a Torah scholar and his son is a Torah scholar, and his grandson is a Torah scholar, the Torah will not cease from his offspring forever,” and the Gemara concludes that Rav Yosef said “From here on, Torah machzeret al achsania shelah — Torah naturally comes around to its home.” The Maharsha explains this to mean that if one makes his own efforts, then the Torah of his forbears will assist him to approach their level of scholarship.

Thus, dear Bar Mitzvah, my berachah to you is that you continue on in the path of Torah study and observance. Hence, you will enjoy the fruition of the prophecy of Isaiah that Hashem’s covenant will be with you “mei’ata v’ad olam — “from this moment and forever.” Mazal Tov!


2.

This week we read in the Torah about a very happy episode that took place in the household of Yaakov Avinu. After a lapse of 22 years the lost brother Yosef was found and all the brothers were happily united together.

During all these years they all had kept their occupation as shepherds while Yosef climbed the rungs of the ladder of success to the very top. He had become the viceroy of Egypt, and Pharoah had set the entire country under his control.

After the brothers embraced one another and celebrated, Yosef invited them to move down to Egypt together with their families and also bring their father along.

The question that remained was how to break the good news to Yaakov in such a way that he would be able to endure the excitement.

While they were contemplating the situation, Yosef spoke up and said “Hurry — and go up to my father and say to him, ‘So said your son Yosef; Hashem has set me as a master of all Egypt. Come down to me — do not delay’ ” (45:9). The brothers quickly returned home and told their father, “Yosef is still alive and that he is the ruler over the entire land of Egypt” (45:26).

Since you, undoubtedly, all know the happy ending of the story, it is unnecessary to elaborate. I must tell you, however, that I read the story for many years and it was quite simple to understand till an experience I once had in the days when I was the Principal at the Lubavitcher Yeshiva.

Most of the students came to Yeshivah and also returned home by school bus. One late afternoon, I received a call from a mother. She frantically bellowed at the top of her voice, “Rabbi Bogomilsky, I waited at the bus stop and my son didn’t get off. I searched on the bus and he wasn’t there. Where is my son?”

My efforts to calm her were to no avail. I told her that he probably had gotten off at a previous stop to go to a friend’s house or perhaps he had gotten off near a store to go in and buy something. My words were an effort in futility: she wouldn’t listen and she kept on demanding “Where is my son?”

About a half an hour later the phone rang and the same mother was on the line telling me “Thank G‑d, my son came home.” When I asked “Where was he? Was my guess right?” she replied, “The main thing is that he is home alive and safe; where he was and what he did I’ll discuss with him later.”

Undoubtedly, the blow which disrupted Yaakov’s tranquil life was the notification of the tragedy that befell his most cherished son, Yosef. Thus, we can well imagine the exaltation and pleasure he would now experience upon hearing the words “Od Yosef chai” — “Yosef is still alive.” If so, why did Yosef tell them to mention his success in Egypt and not merely tell them to say that he was alive? Moreover, why did the brothers add that “He is ruler over all the land of Egypt”? Surely, for a father who yearned so deeply for his lost son, the best news would be to hear “Od Yosef chai” — “Yosef is still alive.” No position, regardless of its greatness, could be of any bearing in comparison to “Od Yosef chai,” that Yosef was still alive. Any words following these words are superfluous.

Yosef and his brothers well understood their father’s thinking. They realized that to merely say “Yosef is still alive” would not convey much. Many a Yosef who is torn away from Jewish surroundings can be said to live — technically speaking — but not within the Jewish interpretation of that word. Many descendants of Yaakov “live” in the United States and in countries throughout the world, but the price of that living is often death, spiritually speaking. Unfortunately, they have adapted the mores of society and have yielded to it at the expense of Torah observance. How many of our Jewish boys and girls in an attempt to move up the ladder of success have done so at the cost of compromising their dedication to the religious paths of their parents and mentors!

Therefore, Yosef said to tell their father that “Hashem has set me as a master over all of Egypt. Egypt did not change the values you taught me one iota.” Yosef knew that this is what his father would be eager to hear. Consequently, the brothers too, after informing Yaakov that Yosef was alive hastened to add that “V’chi hu moshel b’chol eretz Mitzrayim — “He is ruler over all the land of Egypt” — i.e. “Egypt is not ruler over Yosef — Yosef is ruler over the land of Egypt, and he did not permit the environment to influence him.”

Today we can say, thank G‑d, that in America we are seeing not only “Od Yosef Chai” — Yosef is still alive — which would indicate there are Jews who are physically, economically and politically alive and well, but also that “Yosef is the master of the Egypt — American society.” There are people in our midst who have mastered the environment and who have not allowed themselves to succumb to what society proclaims as proper and befitting.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, my berachah to you is that you merit to join the ranks of the “Yosefs” who are spiritually well and alive. Do not be a follower of societal trends, but a leader. May your Torah study and your Yiddish lifestyle be a source of inspiration to others to follow suit and overcome the influence of society. As such, just as Yosef gave much nachas to his father, you, too, will be a source of infinite nachas and pride to Hashem — our Father in Heaven, your family, and Klal Yisrael — the Jewish community at large.


3.

There are certain goals which mortal man strives for, but that have been emphatically denounced by our Sages. Among these is the pursuit and enjoyment of kavod — seeking honor and glory. Though people desire it, to the extent, as the saying goes, “What wouldn’t a person do for a bissele — a little bit — of kavod,” people foolishly even risk their health and wealth to attain it. Nevertheless, in Pirkei Avot (4:21) Rabbi Eliezer Hakapar says “Hakinah v’hata’avah v’hakavod motzi’in et ha’adam min ha’olom” — “Envy, lust and honor seeking drives a man from the world.”

Also, a popular adage states “kol harodeph achar hakavod, hakavod borei’ach mimeno.” He who chasses after kavod — honor — the honor runs away from him.” (I refer to this as a “popular adage,” since this actual version does not appear in any of our texts — there, are however, similar statements that express a similar idea.)

This all points to something puzzling that Yosef said to his brothers. After he reveals his identity and urges them to bring his father down to Egypt, Yosef asks them to “vehigadetem le’avi — tell my father — et kol kevodi b’Mitzrayim” — all my glory in Egypt” (45:13).

Doesn’t it sound unbecoming for a tzaddik like Yosef to make a reference to the honor and glory he is receiving in Egypt? Moreover, he asked his brothers to relate this to his father — did he really think his father would be impressed? On the contrary, Yaakov would seemingly be disappointed to learn that his beloved son had stooped to kavod seeking. Hearing that Yosef was blinded by the glitter of glory of his position, would seemingly shatter Yaakov’s very being. Thus, it is hard to believe that this is what Yosef really wanted to convey.

Undoubtedly, Yosef was sending a profound message which he was sure his father would be pleased to hear. Perhaps his message was the following:

“Twenty two years ago I was brought down to Egypt and sold to Potiphar the Chamberlain of the butchers. One day, his wife approached me to commit an immoral act. Unfortunately, I was about to consent, but suddenly I had a change of heart and quickly ran out of the house. His wife was greatly upset and she badmouthed me to her husband who angrily had me incarcerated. In the prison I met up with Pharoah’s butler and baker and interpreted their dreams. Sometimes afterward Pharoah himself had some strange dreams and the butler remembered my accurate interpretation and thus, recommended me to Paroah. I was quickly brought from jail to Paroah. Thank G‑d, the interpretation I offered was to his pleasing and I was ultimately appointed viceroy over Egypt.”

“Imagine,” Yosef said to his brothers, “I would have acquiesced to Potifar’s wife, she would become my best friend. She would of course not disparage me to her husband and the entire sequence of events would not have taken place. To this day, I would most probably have remain an ordinary servant in Potifars household.”

What inspired me to refuse her request was because suddenly “nir’it li demut do’yikno shel avi” — “the image of my father appeared to me.” Seeing his countenance was a wake-up call for me. It led me to the realization that my father would be immensely upset if I were to yield to her and thus, I immediately declined and ran out of the house.”

After sharing with his brothers a brief synopsis of how he rose from rags to riches he asked them to go back to Egypt and “vehigadetem” — “tell” — “le’avi” — “to my father” — “et kol kevodi b’Mitzrayim” — is all my kavod — glory — in Egypt. I.e., all my glory is le’avi — it belongs to my father and is thanks to him. It is thanks to seeing his image and realizing that he would disapprove my misdeed.

Yosef was keenly aware, that such a message is something that his father Yaakov would enjoy hearing. He would eagerly anticipate uniting with his beloved son who even while in the interim became viceroy of Egypt also remained faithful to the Torah ways of his father.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, now you have become a full-fledged man and are considered a grown-up according to Biblical law. However, you should always remember that, thank G‑d, you have prominent parents and grandparents to emulate and Avinu Shebashamayim — our Father in Heaven, Who gave us a guide for life — the Torah.

Throughout your entire life may you always have before you the image and countenance of your parents. When needing to make a decision always think “Would my actions satisfy my parents? Would my biological ancestors and the Master of the world — Avinu Shebashamayim — Father in Heaven — be pleased and would He approve my behavior?” Conducting such a lifestyle will earn you honor and glory both in the eyes of man and in the eyes of Hashem.