And Yosef Was in Mitzrayim

Golus, golus, how long are you.” These words are from a dveikusdike niggun composed by the Kaliver Rebbe that has been sung for generations. How stifling and how sad that we are far away from our homeland, the land of our fathers, Eretz Yisroel.

The Maharal of Prague says that just as various plants and fruit trees have their own preferred climate and soil where they best flourish, so does Klal Yisroel have its preferred land where it can realize its full potential. That is Eretz Yisroel, when the Bais Hamikdosh is the center of our lives and we have a melech to lead us and a novi to guide us.

But, alas, golus is our sad reality. Far away from home, surrounded by nations that don’t understand us and despise us, we have struggled throughout the generations to survive physically and to maintain a high spiritual level as passed down to us by our ancestors. Hakadosh Boruch Hu sent us the challenges of golus, but He also sent us the kochos to survive. “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them, for I am Hashem, their G-d” (Vayikra 26:44).

The Gemara darshens, “I will not have been revolted by them in the times of the Kasdim (Golus Bovel), when I sent them Doniel, Chananya, Mishoel and Azarya. Nor will I have rejected them in the times of the Yevonim, when I sent them Shimon Hatzaddik and Matisyahu Kohein Gadol. To obliterate them in the days of Haman when I sent them Mordechai and Esther. To annul My covenant with them in the days of the Persians, when I sent them Rebbi and the wise men of the generations. For I am Hashem, their G-d, in the future days, when no nation will be able to rule over them (Megillah 11a).

In every age, in every exile, Hashem sent us the gedolim to illuminate the dark golus for us, to teach us, and to help us survive. Surely in Mitzrayim, the mother of all exiles, this was the case. We needed a luminary to pave the way for our people to be able to endure the golus.

Sefer Shemos, the book of golus and the geulah, begins with five pesukim listing all the names of the members of the Bnei Yisroel who came down to Mitzrayim together with Yaakov. Why was it necessary to repeat all of these names when already in Parshas Vayigash it says all the names of those who came to Mitzrayim? The Torah is frugal with even one letter. Why write these extra five pesukim?

The Alter of Kelm, Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, said that all of these pesukim were repeated just to lead up to the last words: “and Yosef was in Mitzrayim.” Don’t we already know that Yosef was in Mitzrayim? Rashi explains that this comes to teach us the righteousness of Yosef. He was the same Yosef who tended to his father’s sheep, the same Yosef who was in Mitzrayim and became its king, and he remained with his righteousness.

But here, too, we must ask: Is this the place to tell me about Yosef’s greatness? Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to stress this when the Torah speaks about his rulership over Mitzrayim in the earlier chapters? It is because these opening pesukim introduce us to Golus Mitzrayim that Yosef’s greatness is emphasized. For Yosef’s maintaining his tzidkus paved the way for every Yid in Golus Mitzrayim and in the coming exiles to be able to maintain their purity and not be affected by their surroundings that threatened their ruchniyus.

We would be hard-pressed to find anyone who experienced such dramatic upheavals in their lives the way Yosef did. He started as his father’s most beloved son, whom he taught the Torah he learned at the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver. Then he experienced the jealousy and hatred of his brothers and being thrown into a pit with deadly snakes and scorpions. From there, he was sold to Arabs and taken down to Mitzrayim. For a while, he was most successful in the house of Potifar. Then came a false accusation against him that landed him in prison. And from the depths of jail, he suddenly rose to power, ruling over Mitzrayim, at the time the greatest kingdom in the world.

For Yosef, it was a most unenjoyable roller coaster ride. Yet, he was able to maintain his equilibrium by remaining attached to Hashem. And he was able to fend off the challenges posed by his surroundings to his high level of ruchniyus. By remaining Yosef Hatzaddik, with his original madreigah intact, he paved the way for future generations in Mitzrayim and served as an example for them and for all exiles to maintain their tzurah of a true ehrliche Yid.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe points out that this is something that every ben Torah must work on. One never knows where Hashgacha will direct him, and one cannot foresee in advance the vicissitudes that will take place in his life. It is possible to see a person who learned well and conducted himself properly, and then suddenly he faces a change of venue or a difficult situation and he is a different person. We daven to Hakadosh Boruch Hu every day that He not bring us into the power of a nisayon, but we ourselves have be ready for drastic changes in our lives.

One must imagine to himself what it would be like if he were to suddenly find himself amongst people who scorn religion. When it comes time to daven, he gets up to say Shemoneh Esrei and those around him are mocking him. When it comes time to eat, he inquires if the food is kosher and they continue laughing at him. Yet, he continues to remain steadfast in his avodah, even making a baal teshuvah or two along the way. And one must envision what he would look like after being in such a situation for ten years or longer. This was the koach of Yosef Hatzaddik to hold onto his level of kedusha throughout all of his time away from his family.

A talmid of the Mir in Poland once approached the rosh yeshiva, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, distraught over the fact that he was drafted into the army and all attempts to get a deferment were fruitless. Rav Leizer Yudel said to him in all earnestness, “So then we will start a yeshiva where you are. You will send me a shtickel Torah every week and I will send you a stipend of money for it.” And that is exactly what the talmid did. Every week, he sent his chiddushim to his rosh yeshiva and he received remuneration for his efforts in the mail.

In the deepest, darkest moments of the Warsaw Ghetto, groups of Gerrer chassidim kept their regular sedorim of limud haTorah despite the threats of the Nazis ym”sh that this was punishable by death. They met in secret rooms that they reached via a maze of hidden corridors, totally ignoring the dangers of the outside. They even had mikvaos and were able, clandestinely, to daven and learn in total purity. These were the real heroes of the ghetto. The German beasts, with all their power, could not change them in the slightest. This was the koach of Yosef.

Of course, this attribute of Yosef of remaining with the same tzidkus applies to our daily living in the present. In golus, there are always foreign winds blowing that threaten to steer us off course. Every age has its particular yeitzer hara. During Bayis Rishon, it was avodah zarah, and during Bayis Sheini it was the Hellenistic culture. There were communism and Zionism, which brought such churban to our people. Nowadays, in free America, we are all affected by materialism and must remain vigilant in not allowing it to change our Yiddishe tzurah.

There was another attribute of Yosef that can help us flourish in golus. Yosef constantly had the name of Hashem on his lips. In the house of Potifar, “his master saw that Hashem was with them and whatever he did Hashem made succeed in his hand” (Bereishis 39:3). What did his master see? That the name of Hashem never left his mouth. When Yosef would enter to serve Potifar, he would whisper, “Ribono Shel Olam, You are my trust, You are my patron. Please give me grace and kindness and mercy before You and before my master, Potifar.” Potifar asked him, “What are you whispering? Are you perhaps performing witchcraft against me?” “No,” said Yosef. “I am praying that I find favor in your eyes” (Medrash Tanchuma).

When interpreting the dreams of the Sar Haofim and the Sar Hamashkim, Yosef said, “Do not interpretations belong to Hashem? Relate it to me if you please” (Bereishis 40:8). When he was rushed to Paroh to interpret his dreams, he said, “It is beyond me. It is Hashem who will respond with Paroh’s welfare” (ibid. 41:16). “What Hashem is about to do he has told Paroh” (ibid. 41:25). This even had an effect on Paroh, who declared, “Could we find another like him, a man in whom is the spirit of Hashem?” Even Paroh mentioned the name of Hashem.

In the darkness of golus, we have a tendency to forget the name of Hashem. Yes, we say by rote “Boruch Hashem, “Be’ezras Hashem,” and “Im yirtzeh Hashem,” but do we really feel it? We get so caught up with our hishtadlus that we tend to forget that our welfare is all in the Hands of Hashem. Yosef succeeded alone and helpless in golus only because the name of Hashem was constantly on his lips. Talking to Hashem keeps us afloat in the darkness of golus and makes us feel connected to Hashem.

Yosef also spread the name of Hashem to others. We can best do this by conducting ourselves with derech eretz when we are in public places. Our insular communities are growing by leaps and bounds. Our chinuch system is flourishing and our chesed organizations are astounding. We can really be proud of our accomplishments. But we have to remember that we are living in golus. We are the foreign ambassadors of Hashem, charged with a mission to spread His name to the nations of the world. Our conduct is observed by others and it leaves an impression. We must be a shining light for the nations as well.

From time to time, we hear of a Yid who is lauded for a remarkable deed that helped non-Jews. This is a kiddush Hashem. But, unfortunately, sometimes we feel too heimish in golus and project a different image. When a Yid walks into a bank speaking loudly on his cell phone as if no one else is there, the impression he makes is not a favorable one. When a Jew is checking out at a cash register in ShopRite and doesn’t even acknowledge the presence of the cashier because he is occupied with his cell phone, it doesn’t speak well of us. When we drive in traffic in an unbecoming manner and ignore safety rules, it doesn’t paint us in a good light.

In Chazal, we find that tzaddikim would greet a non-Jew with the name of Hashem, Shalom. Greeting others with courtesy and a smile is part of being mekadeish Sheim Shomayim. As a matter of fact, Yosef Hatzaddik’s courtesy is what eventually got him out of prison. Seeing his fellow inmates in a bad frame of mind one morning, he asked them, “Why do you appear downcast today?” (Bereishis 40:7). It was then that they related their dreams, which he interpreted, eventually leading him to interpret Paroh’s dreams, which led him to power over the entire land.

When Yaakov blessed Yosef before leaving this world, he said, “Let them (the blessings) be upon Yosef’s head and upon the head of the exile from his brothers” (Bereishis 49:26). The Chofetz Chaim explained that with this Yaakov stressed the reason for Yosef’s receiving extra brachos. It wasn’t because he supported his father and brothers during the years of hunger and the 17 years that followed. Nor was it because of his high level of tzidkus and shleimus. It was only because he was separated against his will from his family, alone in a foreign land, a servant, a prisoner, and a ruler, and despite all of these various experiences and nisyonos, he remained faithful to Yiddishkeit.

From here we can learn that when the time comes for us to see Moshiach and the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, how great will be the blessings heaped upon us, the Chosen People, who were exiled and persecuted for thousands of years because of our belief. And despite all of this, we never forgot Hashem’s name and remained faithful to His covenant. May that day come very soon.