In the Torah portion of Vayigash, we are informed1 that during the time of famine, “Yosef sustained his father and brothers.” In light of the above, our Sages interpret the verse:2 “Who leads the flock of Yosef,” to mean3 that all the people of Israel are known by the name Yosef, for it was he who sustained them during the time of famine.

The Midrash notes4 that “You Who leads the flock of Yosef” is a plea as well as a statement; we ask G‑d to conduct Himself toward the Jewish people as Yosef conducted himself toward his father and brothers.

The Midrash phrases the plea thus: “Yosef assembled food during the years of plenty for the years of famine; so too, gather for us from this world for the World to Come. Just as Yosef sustained them all according to their deeds… so too, sustain us according to our deeds. … Just as Yosef acted kindly towards his brothers, even though they acted unkindly towards him; so too, treat us kindly although we have treated You unkindly.”

There are a number of things that must be understood about the above Midrash :

1) If Yosef had not protected the food from spoilage during the years of plenty, it would have rotted. How can this apply to the good deeds performed by the Jewish people in this world — how can good deeds possibly “spoil”?

2) Yosef acted kindly towards his brothers, even though they dealt with him in an unkind manner. In other words, he did not act toward them in accordance with their deeds. How then can it be said, “sustain us according to our deeds” as Yosef did? Moreover, for G‑d to simply treat us according to our deeds would require no special kindness, so no special plea is necessary.

G‑d Himself5 delights in every Jew’s performance of mitzvos.6 Because each of us is truly one with G‑d7 — for which reason every Jew is capable of performing even those mitzvos that defy his comprehension with vitality and delight — he is recompensed for this performance by sharing in G‑d’s infinite delight.

The above Midrash can be understood accordingly: The Jewish people (called Yosef) plead with G‑d that, just as Yosef ensured there would be grain during the famine years, so too may they merit to share G‑d’s infinite delight in the World to Come, even though their performance of mitzvos was in a finite manner.

But the Attribute of Justice may rule that the profound unity of the Jewish people with the Divine — a unity that entitles them to share in G‑d’s delight — comes about as a result of their obeying even the supra-rational commandments with vitality and delight. When a Jew lacks such enthusiasm, he is unworthy of sharing G‑d’s delight.

Herein lies the explanation for the second appeal, “Just as Yosef sustained them all according to their deeds… so too, sustain us according to our deeds.” Yosef said to his brothers: “although your intent was to deal badly with me… G‑d made it come out for the good,”8 and therefore “I will provide for your needs and your children’s needs.”9 Yosef thus reacted to the ultimate outcome of their deed, rather than to his brothers’ intent.

So too, the Jewish people ask G‑d to look upon their actions rather than the intent with which these actions are performed. And we know that “even the sinners in Israel are as filled with good deeds as a pomegranate is packed with seeds.”10 All Jews thus deserve to share in G‑d’s delight in the World to Come.

Nevertheless, the Attribute of Justice may still argue: All this is fine and good regarding their good deeds, but what about their transgressions? Although “repentance out of love” can transform misdeeds into merits,11 the intent with which these misdeeds were performed was surely in opposition to the Divine will.

The Midrash therefore concludes with the plea that, just as Yosef sustained his brothers because their actions were ultimately for the good, so too should G‑d act kindly towards us although we sin, sharing with us His delight in the performance of mitzvos , for misdeeds ultimately lead to the heightened spiritual service of which only the penitent are capable.12

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, pp. 239-249