Parashas Mikeitz

In this week’s parashah we read about how Yaakov’s ten oldest sons traveled to Egypt to buy food, and received tough treatment from the Egyptian viceroy – who, unknown to them, was their brother Yosef whom they had sold into slavery years before. As the sons prepared to make their second trip to Egypt, this time with the youngest brother Binyamin, Yaakov gave them the following blessing (Bereishis 43:14): “May God Almighty (Ei­-l Shadd-ai) grant you mercy before the man.” The Midrash remarks (Bereishis Rabbah 92:1):
R. Pinchas expounded in the name of R. Hoshaia: “‘Fortunate is the man who is chastised by Y-ah’ (Tehillim 94:12). Here, Hashem’s four-letter name is not used, but rather specifically the name Y-ah. It is a like a person who is being sentenced by a judge and cries out in agony: ‘Yaah, yaah – enough (dai), enough.’ Thus said Yaakov: ‘May the One who in the future will say “enough” to affliction now say “enough” to my afflictions.’”
The Midrash remarks further (Bereishis Rabbah 92:3):
R. Yoshia ben Levi interpreted Yaakov’s statement as referring to the exiles. Yaakov said: “May God Almighty grant you mercy.” It is written (Tehillim 106:46): “He caused them to be treated with mercy by all their captors.” Yaakov continued: “Before the man.” Here, “the man” alludes to the Holy One Blessed Be He, as it is written (Shemos 15:3): “Hashem is a man of war, Hashem is His Name.”
Elsewhere in the same section, the Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 92:2):
“For this let every devout man pray at a time when [trouble] abides (eis metzo)” (Tehillim 32:6). At a time when the day has run its course (mitzui ha-yom), at a time when the judgment has run its course, at a time when the soul has run its course, at a time when the accounting has run its course. When Yaakov saw that the account had run its course, he began pouring forth supplications, saying: “May God Almighty (Ei-l Shadd-ai) grant you mercy before the man.”
The Maggid explains these Midrashim in terms of the principle that the experiences of the forefathers presage those of the Jewish People throughout history. He brings out the message with a clever parable.
A little baby boy who was being fed by a wet-nurse got sick. His parents took him to a doctor, who told them that the baby would recover readily if he would be made to vomit. He recommended that the wet-nurse take a certain vomiting-inducing drug, so that the baby would ingest the drug as he nursed and would be led to vomit as needed. The nurse realized that the drug would have a very harsh effect on her, but she willingly accepted this suffering because she wanted the baby to get well. So she started taking the drug. She got down half the prescribed dose and started feeling extremely sick. She approached the doctor and said: “I think the amount of drug I have taken so far is enough to cure the baby, and I can stop now rather than take the rest.” The doctor replied: “I am sorry, my dear lady, but you must take the full dose for the treatment to work.”
The nurse listened to the doctor and took the rest of the drug, and afterward began to nurse the baby. After he had taken in a bit of her milk, he started vomiting nonstop and lost all his strength. The doctor was quickly called in. When he arrived and saw how violently the baby was vomiting, he said: “I have to admit that I made a mistake and prescribed an excessive dose. But don’t worry – I know how to bring the baby out of this state.” He squirted a few drops of a very potent antidote into the baby’s mouth, and the baby stopped vomiting. The nurse then started to wail, and she said: “Why did I have to take all this harsh medicine and suffer so much? When I had taken half the dose, I told you it was enough. Why did I have to go through all this agony for nothing?”
The parallel is as follows. Our forefathers went through a variety of harsh experiences that they themselves, based on their own actions, did not deserve, but were brought upon them for the sake of their descendants. By going through these troubles and gaining salvation from them, they produced a reservoir of salvation which their descendants could draw from in times of need throughout all generations. Yaakov, the premier forefather (all of whose sons served as the head of a Jewish tribe) and the last among them, bore an especially trying series of misfortunes – each of which, in some form, would later befall the Jewish People later in history. Although he suffered tremendously, he accepted the suffering for the benefit of his descendants.
But when Yaakov went through the tragedy of losing Yosef, with all the fallout that ensued, his suffering became overwhelming. Knowing that whatever he went through was only a small fraction of what his descendants would go through, he thought to himself: “If my descendants go through the degree of suffering that is foreshadowed by the suffering I am going through now, surely they will not have the wherewithal to survive.” He therefore pleaded with Hashem to relieve his descendants of such suffering, and Hashem assented. Yaakov then had a claim against Hashem: “I knew that You would show pity for my descendants and refrain from bringing on them the severe suffering foreshadowed by my suffering. When, then, did You bring this suffering on me for nothing?”
We can now understand what R. Hoshaia means when he compares Yaakov to a person being sentenced by a judge and crying out in agony, “Yaah, yaah – enough (dai), enough,” and then describes him pleading: “May the One who in the future will say ‘enough’ to affliction now say ‘enough’ to my afflictions.” Yaakov is not, far be it, rebelling against afflictions. Rather, he is saying to Hashem: “Since You will ultimately say ‘enough’ to the afflictions of my descendants, You can say ‘enough’ to my afflictions now. I do not need to go through further afflictions for their sake.” The teaching of R. Yoshia ben Levi follows the same line: Yaakov is saying that since Hashem will arrange for the Jewish People to be treated with a measure of mercy while in exile, He can grant his sons a measure of mercy as they travel to Egypt. The Midrash linking Yaakov’s plea to Tehillim 32:6 is in a similar vein. Yaakov pled for mercy only after he saw that “the judgment had run its course” – that is, that the afflictions he and sons were suffering had begun to go beyond what was needed to safeguard future generations. Had this not been so, Yaakov would have willingly endured further afflictions for the sake of his descendants.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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