AT THE END OF HIS LIFE WHEN YOSEPH will lie on his deathbed, he will gather his brothers around him and predict that Hashem will some day redeem them from Egypt. Among his final words, he will adjure them: And you will bring up my bones from here (Bereishit 50: 25)
ALWAYS SENSITIVE TO EVERY NUANCE, the Sages wondered why Yoseph, though still alive, would refer to himself as bones. Why not say, as his father Yaakov had requested on his deathbed, and you will carry me from Egypt (47:30)? Why speak of himself as though decomposition had already begun?
IN SOTAH (13 B) WE LEARN: Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Why was Yoseph called bones during his life? Because he did not protest his fathers honor, for the [brothers] said to him your servant, our father and he did not say anything to them.
THROUGHOUT THE NEGOTIATIONS FOR THE LIFE of Binyamin (from the end of Miketz to the beginning of Vayigash), Yoseph hears the brothers repeatedly refer to Yaakov as your servant. The Midrash Pirkei dRabbi Eliezer points out that Yoseph hears this 10 times, and so he dies at the age of 110, losing one year from the ideal age of 120 for every mention of your servant. (Actually, the word AVDECHA your servant appears five times, but was repeated each time by the interpreter, an essential part of the overall plan, so he heard it 10 times.) Since Yoseph heard his father described as your servant ten times, say the Rabbis, his own ears would hear his mouth say my bones.
BUT THIS MIDRASH IS VERY HARD to understand. firstly, what could Yoseph have said? If he would have corrected the brothers, would that not have blown his cover as vizier of Egypt? And, aside from the correspondence of 10 years for mentioning your servant, ten times, how does the punishment relate to the sin?
IN ORDER TO EXPLAIN THIS, we have to examine the totality of Yosephs dreams and their actualization.
WHEN YOSEPH FIRST SEES HIS BROTHERS, he is finally in a position to see the fulfillment of his dreams. This is not an egocentric compulsion, says the Ramban. Yoseph is obliged to make his dreams come true, not only because he feels personally guided by them, but because he genuinely believes that he is an instrument in realizing Hashems plans for the people of Israel: the prophecy told to Avraham at the Covenant Between the Pieces that this family would be strangers and slaves, and then redeemed and returned to the Land of Israel is about to begin.
IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH THIS MISSION, Yoseph must suppress his strongest familial emotions. He must maintain a facade appropriate for the vizier of Egypt harsh and imperious, speaking only in Egyptian while pretending not to know that the 11 men standing before him are his brothers. He must fight back the tears, revealing none of the many emotions neither the anger at being sold into slavery, nor the love for his family, and the yearning for his home that he must no doubt contend with.
AND AN INTEGRAL PART OF HIS DREAM was for his father to bow before him. That means that hearing, your servant, our father, as heart-wrenching as it must have been for Yoseph, was unavoidable. To carry this out, part of Yoseph had to die within him. The Torah promises that, for honoring ones parents, our lives will be lengthened. But Yoseph needed to force himself not to protest when his beloved father is called his servant, and this action took its toll. The Maharal of Prague notes that a bone does not feel. Yoseph, who loved and honored his father completely, had to become impervious to feeling, like bone. Yoseph took an enormous risk in making Hashems prophecy happen. Consequently, becoming living bones was an act of self-sacrifice.
HOW DEEPLY INGRAINED how instinctive must Yosephs honor of his father have been! the only way he could have tolerated hearing your servant, our father was by rendering part of himself dead inside!
IF WE ARE TRULY SENSITIVE to the values of torah, then we cannot witness them being trampled without feeling a twinge of pain and sorrow. Unfortunately, many have become all too indifferent. I should ask myself: how much does my Jewishness matter to me?
HAVE I EVER BEEN IN A GROUP OF PEOPLE who didnt know I was Jewish and someone told an anti-Semitic joke?
DID I SAY SOMETHING OR DID I SUPPRESS any reaction in order to be accepted by the group? Did I feel anything at all?
THERE ARE JEWS who do not observe kashrut properly, and in whose homes I will not be able to eat. How does that fact affect me? Do I care? Do I gloat at my Jewish superiority or am I sad? Do I accept that the beauty and sanctity of Shabbat is not yet accepted by all Jews, or do I yearn for them to know about it?
DO I TAKE IT FOR GRANTED that some Jews care nothing about Israel, and have no interest in visiting it or learning about it? Or does such willful ignorance disturb me?
AND IF I DO CARE, if I do support the strengthening of Torah what am I willing to do about it? The first step is to make Torah truly alive within myself and an integral part of my life.