Illuminating Introspection

The saga of Yosef and his brothers is long and dramatic. Along the way, more and more clues as to what really happened emerge, especially as Yosef leads them through a process of introspection when they meet again in Egypt. In one instance in this week’s Parsha, we find the brothers reflecting on how they came to the predicament of Shimon being imprisoned, having to bring Binyamin to prove their innocence and free him. While doing so, however, they mention an aspect of the story we’d never known before: “And the brothers said to one another: ‘we are guilty for what we did to our brother, for we saw his pain and (heard) his pleas but we did not listen. Therefore, this difficulty has befallen us” (42:21).


If we re-read the story of Yosef being sold, nowhere do we find that Yosef screamed or supplicated. The Ramban points out this discrepancy, and answers simply that it was implied and/or the story was shorthand and the Torah is filling in the details here. Rabbi R’ Shlomo Freifeld, founder of Yeshivas Shor Yashuv, is quoted as saying there is a deeper, psychological explanation. While it’s true that Yosef was screaming for their help when it happened, the brother could only realize it now, in retrospect, when they revisited their actions later. When it happened, their minds were made up to get rid of Yosef, as he was a threat which needed to go. His cries fell on deaf ears because they didn’t care to even listen in the moment. It’s only now, when they’re recalling what happened, analyzing where they went wrong, that they actually realize that he was pleading with them.


Our mind is a powerful tool. It can propel us further when we’re on the right path, but it can hold us back -even blind us- when we’re on the wrong path. Our perspective molds our senses more often than we like to admit. Even if we hear or see something, we interpret it based on our biases and preconceived notions. The Sfas Emes explains that the Jews in the Chanukah story were plagued by the same blindness. While other exiles were certainly “dark”, the time-period against the Greeks is known as the ‘darkest’. The existence of the Beit Hamikdash, and the prevalence of a translated Torah made us think that we were actually doing well. But we failed to realize how both were actually being slowly corrupted by a foreign culture, until it was too late. One message of the Chanukah lights is its clarity and illumination, not just of the physical darkness -for which the Menorah is not allowed to help us- but with the figurative darkness. It helps us parts of our lives we haven’t even noticed we could be improving. As the brothers realized, and as we try to accomplish through the Menorah, we have to capitalize on the moments in life which give us pause to introspect, and jog our memory back to reality.