In a “big” parsha of dreams, ascent, drama, turmoil and tears, one “minor ” verse looms large:
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon: and he shaved himself, and changed his clothing and came in unto Pharaoh.(Bereishis, 41:14)
In this verse, with a stunning Seforno insight embellished by a beautiful Chofetz Chaim parable, one finds great comfort and contemporary relevance for the Jew.
The question here is somewhat obvious. That Yosef is rushed, changes his clothing and shaves seems too mundane to be significant. Let the Torah simply state that Yosef was brought before Pharaoh.
First, consider that Yosef has been languishing in prison for twelve years and away from his family for thirteen. A thirty year old bachelor on a depressing career path, Yosef is going nowhere quickly. One might be tempted to say that Yosef is at the absolute low point in his life. The perceptive observer knows that Yosef has been working on himself, overcoming trial after trial of great import. He is readying himself for greatness, even as he has no idea how it will happen.
One fine day, he receives the call – and then it all happens so quickly. Here we turn to Seforno:
This is the manner of all Divine salvations that happen “in but a moment” as it says .. “for My salvation is closely approaching” (Yeshayahu, 56:1) and as it says ” if only My nation would listen to me in an instant I would subdue their foes (Psalms 81).
Why mention Yosef’s hasty summons? The good Lord doesn’t dawdle. When the pre-redemption process is over, don’t expect transition and absorption time. In one swift fell swoop, stunning in its immediacy, redemption happens. That very moment you deserve it, it shall come.
Thus it was in the past :
Such was the case with Egypt for they were “driven from Egypt” .. for even their dough did not have the opportunity to rise
And so it shall be:
Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple (Malachi, 3:1)
Seforno’s immediate redemption notion allows us to understand the classic Messianic verse:
A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time (Yeshayahu, 60:22).
In other words, when the right time comes, it will happen ever so quickly (1).In its time, I shall hasten it
Elsewhere, Seforno (2) explains why it works this way:
For God is waiting in hopeful anticipation for the redemption of Israel throughout their exile, so too He is waiting in hopeful anticipation for the future redemption of Israel as it says: Hashem waits to deal graciously with you.
If you are depressed from the gloom and doom that perpetually appears on the Israeli political horizon, Seforno’s words may be an upper. Our pre-redemption process has been so lengthy, and precisely when it feels imminent – it once again recedes. A post 1967 euphoria is but a nostalgic memory, replaced with sobering doses of the hard reality that we must constantly fight to retain our little strip of land. And yet ..
Seforno reminds us that while we must do the process, let us not allow the process to undo us. One need not know all (or any of) the answers. Your salvation can happen in an instant, says God!
More significantly, his second comment yields a critical reminder. God wants – but we must do our part. What is required is nothing less than an internal national metamorphosis. God waits, keviyachol (as if) with baited breath and for the first possible moment to redeem us. But we must first accomplish.
Words of Comfort: On November 23rd, 2007 Ha’aretz reported a recent survey conducted by the Guttman Center, that found just 20 percent of Jews in Israel describe themselves as secular. These figures are “a new low point for the secular community”. In 1974, the number of those describing themselves as secular stood at more than 40 percent. The current survey reflects a link between secularism and age finding that younger people are more religious. There is no question – a massive teshuva process is underway.
Words of Reflection: A simple, whimsical and poignant Chofetz Chaim parable (3) – one that reportedly brought Rav Elchonon Wasserman to laughter, goes something like this
A country bumpkin farmer wearing rural garb saved his money to finally see the big city. Every step was overwhelming. The roar of the train and its immenseness kept him wide-eyed. He could not stop gazing at the vast and varied stretches of train traversed land. Meanwhile, a bunch of hooligans looking for a good time on a long train ride, closed in on their prey. They began their approach:
“Where are you going?” – To the big city
“To a city of princes, you wear such clothing? – I brought my fancy clothing and will change in a hotel
“In a hotel? – with your clothing, they”ll never let you in!” – (Our panic stricken bumpkin, sensing impending doom asks: “What shall I do”?)
“In a few moments the train will go underground and will be all dark. Prepare your new clothing, unbutton your present garb, and as soon as the train goes dark, quickly change!”
Pleased and relieved to have such good friends , he prepared for the moment and sure enough the train went dark – just long enough for him to be fully undressed – before it quickly met the light of day – much to the delight and mirth of our hooligans, who enjoyed a very good laugh.
The Chofetz Chaim, turned to his audience, exhorted them to be ready and invoked Kohelet: “At all times shall your clothing be white”, (Kohelet,9:8)
As our redemption train comes hurtling in, our present darkness, seemingly so intractable, will quickly dissipate.
Are we ready?
A freilichen Chanukah and a beautiful Shabbos! Asher Brander
1. Cf. Ramban shemos, 12:42 who understands this verse in this manner. Cf. Sanhedrin p8a that understands the verse as referring to two different types of redemption.
2. Seforno, 12:42, Leil Shimurim
3. Meged Givot Olam, 88, brought in Chofetz Chaim HaChadash Al Hatorah, 1:304
Rabbi Asher Brander is the Rabbi of the Westwood Kehilla, Founder/Dean of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and is a Rebbe at Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.