By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Yerushalayim, Israel
In Parashat Miqqez, we learn that, because of a famine in Eretz Yisra’el, Ya’aqob sent his sons, Yosef’s brothers, the brothers who had sold Yosef to the Yishme’elim, to purchase food in Mizrayim. Bereshit 42:1-5. Unbeknownst to Ya’aqob and Yosef’s brothers, Par’o had appointed Yosef to the position of “governor of the land [of Mizrayim] and [it was] he that sold [food] to all the people of the land.” Id. 42:6.
When the brothers approached Yosef to purchase food, “Yosef knew his brethren, but they knew them not.” Id. 42:8.
On a simply level, the pasuk “Yosef knew his brethren, but they knew him not” can be understood as saying that Yosef recognized his brothers because, when the brothers sold Yosef to the Yishme’elim, which was the last time they had seen each other, the brothers had beards, but Yosef, being young, had not yet grown a beard. Thus, Yosef recognized his brothers, but his brothers did not recognize him. Rashi, Bereshit 42:8, citing Masekhet Ketubot 27b; Masekhet Yevamot 88a; Bereshit Rabba 91:7.
A deeper explanation is that “’Joseph recognized his brothers’ when they were given over to his hand, he recognized that they were his brothers and had mercy on them. ‘But they did not recognize him’ when he fell into their hand, by [not] treating him in a brotherly manner.” Id., citing Bereshit Raba 91:7.
We often refer to our fellow Jews as our “brothers” and “sisters.” If our fellow Jews are our “brothers” and “sisters,” there must be a lineage that creates this familial bond. And, indeed there is. That familial lineage was formed at Har Sinai, with the giving of the Torah. When the Hebrews gathered at the base of Har Sinai, they prepared themselves to receive the Torah by, among other things, agreeing to accept unconditionally all of the precepts of the Torah and then learn the details of those precepts at a later time and by bathing, immersing in a mikveh (ritual bath), of sorts. In other words, the Hebrews arrived at Har Sinai as non-Jews, converted to Judaism, received the Torah, and then departed Har Sinai as Jews.
Thus, we see that the source of the bonds that make our fellow Jews “brothers” and “sisters” is the Torah and, G-d forbid, without the Torah there is no such thing as Jews, Judaism, or Jewish “brothers” and “sisters.”
Today, unfortunately, there are many Jews who do not recognize the Torah as Divine. There are also many Jews who, although they accept the Torah as having been Divinely given, do not recognize that it is HaShem’s will that all Jews reside in Eretz Yisra’el.
May all Jews be blessed to recognize the Torah as Divine and that it is HaShem’s will that all Jews “recognize” their brothers and sisters, and to do so by moving to, and living with them in, Eretz Yisra’el.
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.