Parashas Vayiggash

In this week’s parashah, Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers, saying (Bereishis 45:3): “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” Our Sages interpret Yosef’s question as a rebuke: “You claimed that if you went home without Binyamin, your father would be overcome with anguish. Why did you not think of that when you sold me into slavery?” And thus the Torah continues (ibid. 45:4): “His brothers could not answer him because they were taken aback before him.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10):
Woe to us over the day of judgment! Woe to us over the day of rebuke! … Yosef was the least among the sons of Yaakov [involved in the debate], yet the others could not stand up to his rebuke. … All the more so when the Holy One Blessed Be He rebukes each and every person according to his level, as it is written (Tehillim 50:21): “I shall rebuke you before your eyes and judge you.”
We previously presented a segment from the Maggid’s commentary on this Midrash. We now present another segment, in which the Maggid discusses the way Hashem judges us and describes an approach we can take to get Him to judge us leniently.
We realize that we cannot render Hashem the monumental service He truly deserves on account of His greatness, and we know that Hashem does not expect this from us, but graciously accepts the meager service we are capable of offering. Yet a person should not be self-assured, saying to himself: “Given my human limitations, I am doing a good job of serving Hashem.” If a person takes this attitude, Hashem will rebuke him and show him that even according to his level of capability, he has not done a proper job of serving Him, but has fallen well short. And then he will be taken aback before Him. Instead, a person should take a humble attitude, viewing his accomplishments as modest, and then Hashem will judge him leniently. In this vein, David HaMelech says (Tehillim 32:2): “Fortunate is the man to whom Hashem does not ascribe iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” If a person does not falsely regard himself as impeccable, Hashem will not regard him as flawed.
The Torah says (Shemos 20:23): “You shall not go up to My altar on steps, so that your nakedness will not be exposed upon it.” The Midrash in Shemos Rabbah 30:2 that the verse cannot be read in a strict literal sense, for the Kohanim are required to wear undershorts when performing their duties (Shemos 28:42). The Maggid says that the verse alludes to the idea discussed above. He draws a link to a teaching in Berachos 10b: “A person should not stand in a high place to pray, but rather in a low place. As it is written (Tehillim 130:1): ‘From the depths I call out to you, Hashem.’ … For there is no elevation before the All-Present One.”
He brings out the point with a parable. A person was sued by a creditor claiming from him a large amount of money. He had the money to pay, but he sought a stratagem to avoid paying this large sum. He consulted his friends, and was told that only way out was to swear that he was unable to pay. He was satisfied with this advice, and went home happy, saying, “I’ll hurry over to the court, swear, and be exempted.” He told his servant to prepare his handsome coach and take out the fine suit that he wore only on special occasions. His wife saw what he was doing and hollered at him: “You fool! Why are you packing your finest clothes now and priding yourself in your fancy coach? They’ll work against you when you come before the judge. If you travel in style and show up in court in an expensive suit like a nobleman, how will you possibly argue that you don’t have the money to pay? Put away the fancy suit and wear your worn-out clothes, and travel to the courthouse in a wretched one-horse wagon like the kind poor people ride in. Then you will have a believable case when you claim you can’t pay.”
Our situation is similar. The service we should be rendering Hashem is very extensive. Our only hope is to argue that it is beyond our ability to serve Hashem the way He deserves. Accordingly, when we stand before Hashem in prayer, we must approach Him with a broken heart and a sense of shame over our inability to serve Him properly. This is what the Sages are saying when they teach that a person should not stand in a high place to pray because there is no elevation before Hashem. Indeed, when a person comes to the Beis HaMikdash to bring an offering to atone for a sin, so that Hashem will accept the offering and pardon him, it is imperative that he approach Hashem with awe and fear, and garbed in humility and submission, saying: “Behold my lowliness and limited comprehension, and do not bring me to justice.” The same idea is reflected in the verse that says that one should not go up to the altar in steps, in order not to expose his nakedness. The word that the verse uses for steps, מעלות, can be read homiletically as meaning “positive qualities.” If a person takes a prideful stance and presents himself to Hashem as possessing sterling qualities, he will be exposing his deficiency. As Shlomo HaMelech puts it (Mishlei 29:23): “A man’s pride will bring him low.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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