Getting things done yourself – Vayigash


Getting things done yourself


Elchanan Shoff

“And no ish (man) stood with him, when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.”

Bereshis 45:1


Yosef was sent by his brothers to a strange land, cut off from his father and his family, and left alone in the world. His reunion with his brothers, after so many years of estrangement is one of the most emotional and enrapturing episodes recorded in the Torah. His ability to ultimately forgive his brothers, and live in harmony with them for the remainder of his life is one of the great feats of strength that we witness in human history. Yosef did that all alone. He had no help.


Rabbi Shimon Sofer of Krakow[1], explains that although the word ish usually translates as “man”, thus having the verse read “no man was with Yosef,” in other contexts in the Torah, the word ish is used as a word for an Angel.[2] When Yosef was looking for his brothers[3] he ran into an ish who told him that he could find his brothers in Dosan. That ish, our sages teach us, was the angel Gabriel, the angel of strength. Listening to his father’s command was something that required an immense amount of strength on the part of Yosef. After all, Yosef knew of his brothers feelings about him. But Yosef received the assistance of Gabriel, and thus was able to marshal his inner power and push on to fulfill his task. We all receive help from others in reaching our goals. Yosef got some help, and our sages teach us that this “man” who helped him was indeed Hashem working through an Angel.


The highest level, however, is when we can stand up to our challenges unassisted. Though as a young man, Yosef required an ish to help him overcome his obstacles, by the time he got the strength to truly forgive his brothers, he needed no assistance from any ish. He had reached a point where he could handle such an enormous challenge on his own. He cites Ramban who teaches that the greatness of our forefathers was that Hashem left them without any outside assistance allowing them to fully rule over their inclinations of their own, and they lived up to that challenge doing the right thing of their own accord.


Yosef named a son Menashe, “for Hashem caused me to forget… my father’s home”.[4] On the surface this sounds like a bizarre sort of name to give a child. Meor Vashemesh[5] explains that when Yosef was tempted by Potiphars wife, our sages tell us[6] that he was prepared to submit to her seduction[7] until he saw his father’s image in the window, and that reminded him of what he could and should be. Yosef later grew to the point where he no longer needed to remember his father’s face. He could withstand temptation on his own, without having to use the memory of his holy father to aid him. It was in celebration of this that Yosef named his some Menashe, for he achieved a level that allowed him to not need to always be thinking of his father.


There a great deal of help coming to us in our lives at all times. Hashem sends his messengers and messages to us in all sorts of ways, allowing us to grow. But our goal is to internalize those messages so that we can truly need no help from man or angel, as our grandfather Yosef succeeded in doing.


Rabbi Elchanan Shoff is Rabbi of the LINK East Shul in Los Angeles, and Associate Rosh Kollel of the Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel (LINK). He is the author of Vaani Bahashem Atzapeh (Jerusalem 2010) in Hebrew on Tehillim, Birchasa Vishirasa (Jerusalem 2012) in Hebrew on Meseches Brachos of the Babylonian Talmud, and his weekly Torah email “Paradise” reaches more than 1000 people. His book Paradise: Breathtaking Strolls Through the Length and Breadth of Torah was published in October 2012 by Urim Publications, Jerusalem.

[1] son of Chasam Sofer, Michtav Sofer Drush 6

[2] See Maimonides, Yesodei Hatorah 2:7 and 7:1 where he lists Ishim as a category of Angels.

[3] Bereshis 37:15

[4] Bereshis 41:51

[5] to Vayigash, see also Techeles Mordechai of Maharsham, to Miketz-Chanukah 45b citing this source.

[6] Sotah 36b

[7] See the comments of R. Yonason Shteiff (Mahari Shteiff al Hatorah, Vayeshev, Amaros 102) where he cites the Alshich (Shmuel 1, 24:5-8) where he explains that David was uncertain to to whether or not he ought to kill Saul, his dilemma was in determining whether or not doing so would be a mitzvah. So he began the action to see how he would react to it. If he were to feel regret for doing the action, then he would know that it were a sin, and could stop part way, whereas if he were to feel no guilt he could conclude that his actions were the right ones. He thus began cutting the corner of Saul’s clothing, but immediately, the verse tells us that David’s heart regretted it. R. Yonason Shteiff explains that this was the thought process of Yosef as well. The midrash (Bereshis Rabbah 85:2) teaches that Potiphar’s wife had the best of intentions, since she saw that she was destined to have children from Yosef. In the end, these were her descendants through Yosef’s marriage to her daughter Osnas. Yosef was unsure as to whether or not she was correct in soliciting him for this action. So he entered the realm of sin to test the waters, and see how he would feel. Immediately he felt regret and saw the image of his father and thus he knew to flee the house. See also the comments of Imrei Emes (Vayeshev p. 67a s.v. Vayihi Kihayom, and 68a s.v. Issa Bigemara) that the hardest part of the challenge for Yosef was that she was sincerely attempting to do the right thing.

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