Shabbos Mikeitz:
It's Never Too Late

Rabbi Yehoshua Pinkus


“Yosef said to them on the third day, ‘Do this and live; I fear God: If you are truthful people, let one of your brothers be imprisoned in your place of confinement while you go and bring provisions for the hunger of your households. Then bring your youngest brother to me so your words will be verified and you will not die.’ And they did so. They then said to one another, ‘Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us.’” (Genesis 42:18-21)

Here, Yosef’s brothers finally admit to their culpability in selling Yosef and start the process of repentance, but what specifically is motivating them now after 22 years? They had endured famine and three days imprisonment and were about to be set free, with the exception of Shimon.
So why at the time of their partial salvation are the brothers admitting their guilt and repenting?

Because man has free will to harm others, they assumed that Yosef’s decision to lock them up was an exercise of his free will and not necessarily a G-dly act of retribution. Likewise, Reuven, who had actually protested the sale of Yosef, was also imprisoned with them. Thus they figured, had this been Divine payback, measure for measure, Reuven would not have been jailed.

When Yosef decides to set the brothers free, with the exception of Shimon, he explains his actions with the words, “I fear God.” Yosef was concerned that the brothers wouldn’t be able to provide food for all of their families since one brother wouldn’t be able to carry all the food back home. Thus Yosef, motivated by fear of G-d, reconsidered his decision.

Although such a change of heart for an authoritarian dictator is rare, Yosef was quite atypical, as the fear of G-d led him to reconsider his decision.

With one brother singled out as the hostage, the brothers reflected on their original sin, as they had singled out Yosef. Furthermore, Shimon, the ringleader of the “anti-Yosef” plot, was truly the most suitable choice. It was at this point that the brothers realized that Yosef’s decision was not an ordinary exercise of human free will; these were Divine messages.

The brothers realized that if a “gentile” ruler can reevaluate his decision based on fear of G-d, where did that leave them? They said to themselves: “This man is having mercy on foreigners whom he has never met and has no kinship with! Maybe we should also reexamine our actions of 22 years ago in light of current events. Maybe this is a Divine message and we were wrong!” It was these thoughts that ultimately propelled them toward repentance.

Let this be an example for us. We should constantly reexamine our previous actions and never be afraid to admit fault or wrongdoing, even years after an incident. (Based on Ohr HaChaim and Ma’ayn Bais HaShoevah)



Rabbi Pinkus is a full-time member of the Chicago Community Kollel.

Parsha Encounters is coordinated by Rabbi Zvi Feiner and edited by Barbara Horwitz.



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