Torah Weekly

For the week ending 7 January 2017 / 9 Tevet 5777

Parshat Vayigash

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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With the discovery of the goblet in Binyamin's sack, the brothers are confused. Yehuda alone steps forward and eloquently but firmly petitions Yosef for Binyamin's release, offering himself instead. As a result of this act of total selflessness, Yosef finally has irrefutable proof that his brothers are different people from the ones who cast him into the pit, and so he now reveals to them that he is none other than their brother. The brothers shrink from him in shame, but Yosef consoles them, telling them that everything has been part of G-d’s plan. He sends them back to their father Yaakov with a message to come and reside in the land of Goshen. At first, Yaakov cannot accept the news, but when he recognizes hidden signs in the message which positively identify the sender as his son Yosef, his spirit is revived. Yaakov together with all his family and possessions sets out for Goshen. G-d communicates with Yaakov in a vision at night. He tells him not to fear going down to Egypt and its negative spiritual consequences, because it is there that G-d will establish the Children of Israel as a great nation even though they will be dwelling in a land steeped in immorality and corruption. The Torah lists Yaakov's offspring and hints to the birth of Yocheved, who will be the mother of Moshe Rabbeinu. Seventy souls in total descend into Egypt, where Yosef is reunited with his father after 22 years of separation. He embraces his father and weeps, overflowing with joy. Yosef secures the settlement of his family in Goshen. Yosef takes his father Yaakov and five of the least threatening of his brothers to be presented to Pharaoh, and Yaakov blesses Pharaoh. Yosef instructs that, in return for grain, all the people of Egypt must give everything to Pharaoh, including themselves as his slaves. Yosef then redistributes the population, except for the Egyptian priests who are directly supported by a stipend from Pharaoh. The Children of Israel become settled, and their numbers multiply greatly.


Voice Recognition

“...that it is my (Yosef’s) mouth that is speaking to you” (45:12)

Learning Hebrew was a slow painful process for me. But when I finally managed to hold what might be called a “conversation”, it struck me that the way I was expressing myself in Hebrew was quite different from my English self.

Not just that my limited vocabulary and my painful syntax made communication more cumbersome and imprecise, but that I adopted a different persona — somewhat more confrontational and heimishe.

My intuition is that the identity and the culture expressed in that language have an influence on the way we expresses ourselves when we speak that language.

I found something similar in this week’s Torah portion.

“...that it is my mouth that is speaking to you.

Yosef is here reassuring the brothers that the Egyptian Viceroy facing them is in point of fact their long-lost brother. Rashi explains that he did this by speaking in Hebrew, a language unknown in Egypt. The Ramban questions this interpretation because it was likely that most of the ruling class in Egypt probably knew Hebrew.

So what, then, according to Rashi, was the sign that signified that Yosef was indeed their brother?

Yosef’s physical appearance had completely changed after twenty-two years, but there is one thing that doesn’t change — the sound of someone’s voice. Voice recognition is such a strong indication of identity that it can be used as a factor in deciding the halacha in matters of issur v’heter (see Chulin 96a).

But that’s only if the person you are identifying is speaking in a language that you have heard him speak. When Yosef stopped speaking to the brothers in Egyptian and started to speak in Hebrew, the unmistakable sound of their brother’s voice reassured them that he was Yosef.

  • Sources: Ahavat Yehonatan in Mayana Shel Torah

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