Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger
Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger

Pain and Redemption

It sounds like a family rehashing an old argument and spinning well known narratives. As the famine intensifies and the scarcity of food is frightening, a well-worn standoff between father and children centers once again on whether the favored son, Binyamin can travel to Mitzrayim. In the middle of all of this Yaakov demands, (43:6) "why have you cause me so much trouble, [by] telling the man that you have yet another brother". It would seem that Yehuda reviews the story he must have told on more than a few occasions.

Yet it is hard to imagine that the family of Yaakov and his children would engage in the pastime of simple families, and even harder to accept that such banter would be worthy of entering the Biblical record. No doubt there is much to be learned from what seems to be Yaakov's outburst, which apparently is dismissed by a quick review of what is already known.

Harav Yerucham Levovitz (1873-1936) the charismatic and saintly mashgiach of the pre-war Mirrer Yeshiva suggested that this moment of passion captures what could be the caption of many a moment in life and in the life of our people: Sending Binyamin exposes Yaakov's greatest fear even as it is his ticket to fulfilling his dream of finding Yosef. While Yaakov wrestles with endangering the last link he had with his beloved deceased Rachel, he is really delaying the G-d given opportunity to make his family whole. To paraphrase the medrash: While Yaakov is railing against his pain, I, Hashem, am establishing the sovereignty of Yosef who will give them all safe passageway. In fact, explains the mashgiach, the passage is not intended to give new information, rather to juxtapose two worlds: the one that is so very real, so very frightening and palpable to Yaakov and the master plan, the world that will be real and relevant to a triumphant future[1]. In other words, this moment is a snapshot that belongs in Torah so that it will forever give us pause and become a part of our orientation and our children's frame of reference for all that they endure.

Maintaining this perspective even in the most challenging times, according to the famous Kelmer Maggid, gives meaning to an otherwise obscure set of familiar pesukim in Hallel (118:17-22), "Hashem has given me great pain, but did not let me die. Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank Hashem. This is the gate of Hashem; the righteous shall enter through it." The Maggid explained the "gate of Hashem" in which the tzadik finds comfort is created by the tzadik's ability to live in the terribly painful times of Yaakov and yet be totally aware of the redemption that may be in the making at the very same moment.

We pray that as Hashem watches over all the suffering of all those who could say, "lama ha'rei'osem" He is indeed speeding up the hour of our redemption.


[1]Moshe Rabbeinu similarly addresses Hashem (Shemos 6:22) after his early mission only increases the demands on an already overtaxed people: "Why have you brought so much trouble to this nation..." Yet that too, according to Ramban, was a turning point in the mission of Moshe and in the realization of Hashem's promised redemption, and perhaps even in reducing the length of the exile.

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