January 3, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1051, Parsha Thought, VaYigash


The most powerful Biblical drama is arguably the poignant moment Yoseph tells his brothers that he is their brother Yoseph! But before he utters these powerful words that triggered the rapprochement between Yoseph and his brothers, the Torah relates the following:

Now Yoseph could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him, so he called out, “Remove everyone from before me!” Thus no man stood with him when Yoseph made himself known to his brothers.

Two questions have been asked:

First, why does the Torah have to say that “no man stood with him when Yoseph made himself known to his brothers?” Isn’t it obvious that no one was there after he had ordered that all the Egyptians leave the room?

One simple answer might be that Yoseph’s aides were concerned for his safety. After hearing the powerful words of Yehuda, pleading for the freedom of his brother Benyamin, they were concerned that the brothers might attempt to use force against Yoseph. Thus, the Torah emphasizes that they followed his order and left the room.

However, a question can still be raised. Why does the Torah have to tell you that there was no one left there? It could simply have stated that the Egyptians departed.

Second, why does it say that no man “stood”? Does it make a difference whether they were standing or sitting? Why didn’t the Torah say, “There was no man there,” or better still, “and they left”?


The Chassidic work Shem Mishmuel addresses both questions. It explains that the word “man” used here does not apply to the Egyptians who were in that room. Obviously, they would have complied with Yoseph’s order to leave the room. Instead, the man it refers to was an angel. In an earlier parsha, when Yoseph searches for his brothers in Sh’chem, he is met by a “man” who directs him on to his brothers. This man, the Midrash states, is none other than the angel Gavriel. We see from this analysis that the Biblical word “man” can be used to refer to the guardian angel Gavriel.

It makes sense that the same guardian angel that sent Yoseph to his brothers, which initiated the entire ordeal of Yoseph’s slavery and subsequent rise to power, would be there when this sad chapter of the rivalry between Yoseph and his brothers was achieving closure.

The Torah thus underscores that no one was present; not even an angel, including the angel Gavriel.


To buttress the argument that the word “man” here refers to an angel, the Torah uses the word “stood.” We have seen that this word can allude to angels, who are referred to in Biblical literature as “standing beings” because they do not possess the human capability of growth. We have been endowed by G-d with the ability to grow as a result of meeting the challenges we confront and surmounting the obstacles placed in our path. Angels have no evil inclination. They do not have any human-like challenges to overcome and are therefore destined to remain standing on one level.

Why was the angel not able to be there to guide Yoseph, as he had done at the beginning of this entire episode? If the angel could inaugurate a dynamic process which involved a conflict between brothers, the progenitors of the Jewish people, why couldn’t the angel also be involved in the resolution of that struggle, which had far reaching effects on Jewish unity?


The Shem Mishmuel addresses this question as well and explains that this fateful meeting of reconciliation between Yoseph and his brothers was a portent of the future redemption for which no angelic involvement will be necessary.

The premise for this teaching is that all the things that have happened to the Jewish people, all the twists and turns of their history, has already occurred in some fashion in the lives of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and the 12 Tribes.

For example: When the famine in Canaan compelled Avraham to go to Egypt, it foretold the descent of the Jewish people into Egypt. Likewise, Yoseph’s suffering was a portent of the ordeal the Jewish people would eventually endure in exile.

The contentious relationship between Yoseph and his brothers foretold deep divisions within the Jewish people. From the split of Israel into two kingdoms after King Solomon’s passing, to the many conflicts that have sadly punctuated Jewish life throughout history, division has become a staple of Jewish existence. It all began with Yoseph and his brothers.

Similarly, the reconciliation of Yoseph and his brothers was a portent of the future period of Redemption when the houses of Yehuda and Yoseph will be united into one, under a single leader, Moshiach. Indeed, all conflicts, large and small, will be healed in the Messianic Age.

The seed for this ultimate reconciliation was planted by Yoseph’s rapprochement with his brothers precisely at the moment he had everyone leave, including the angels, and then revealed himself to his brothers.


Now we can understand why even the angel was asked to leave.

In the Messianic Age we will no longer need to have angels assist us in our relationship with G-d. Although we cannot use an angel as our intermediary with G-d, the angels are important in this era before the Redemption to energize us and serve as our “advocates.” They take our prayers, remove their imperfections, “polish” and beautify them. The angels make our pleas and prayers more appealing to G-d.

This function of the angels is alluded to in Yaakov’s dream of a ladder reaching from the ground into the heavens; he saw angels going up and down the ladder.

The Zohar explains that the ladder symbolizes prayer, which connects those of us who are situated on the ground with G-d above. However, to help us in our climb to the heavens, we avail ourselves of the spiritual forces known as angels. The angels also help bring Divine inspiration down from the heavens into our earthly consciousness.

Now just as the angels assist us in our relationship with G-d, so too the angels can serve as mediators that help to bring two human parties closer together; to help heal the rifts between people.

This may be true in the pre-Messianic Era, where there exists a natural propensity for separation. Ever since G-d divided the lower waters from the upper waters on the second day of creation, the dynamic of division and conflict have been part of the human condition.

It is certainly true that the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was intended to heal and reverse that division. However, G-d wanted us to be a part of that process. Immediately after the revelation at Sinai, G-d initiated the healing process by “descending” on Mount Sinai. He then “withdrew” and charged us to bring about unity. While G-d has empowered us to achieve that unity, it is we who must make it happen.

Every Mitzvah we do chips away at the natural propensity for separation—separation of ourselves from G-d and separation of one person with another. The cumulative efforts of thousands of years of Mitzvos will culminate with the total reversal of the barriers that separate us from G-d and each other. All this will be fully implemented with the coming of Moshiach, the final Jewish leader, who will complete the task initiated by Moshe, our first leader.

When the Messianic Age unfolds we will no longer need the support of the angels. Yoseph’s reconciliation with his brothers, which portended the ultimate reconciliation, did not need any outside support. It did not even need support from the spiritual forces known as angels.

In exile there are two forces that unite us: Either anti-Semitism and persecution or spiritual support and inspiration. By Yoseph sending out the Egyptians and the angels, Yoseph conveyed a powerful message: in the end we will need neither of these supports to attain unity.

How does the Messianic Age change our interpersonal relationships?

The reason we have division today arises from the way we view one another. When we look with eyes of flesh, we see flesh. When we look with physical vision we see only the physicality of others. Since the physical is, by definition, limited and flawed we see only the flaws and limits of others.

When our eyes are opened to see beyond the physical and see the Divine in everyone, there will be no division because we will see the inherent unity in everything.


Thanks to the Shem Mishmuel we can better appreciate the custom of breaking a glass at a wedding. The stated reason for this custom is to temper our joy so that we don’t forget the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.

However, one may suggest a deeper reason. A wedding is a model of the future marriage with G-d that will be made complete. The broken glass, conversely, symbolizes the fact that in exile our relationships are precarious and subject to breaking, precisely because we are still in exile.

This conveys a twin message:

As long as we are in exile, even while we are on the cusp of the final Redemption, we remain vulnerable and can use the help of our families, friends and angels to keep our marriage strong.

Conversely, we should reflect on the joy of the wedding, the greatest joy known to us, and project this joy into the future. We must realize that an Earthly wedding is but a sample and foretaste of the perpetual wedding celebration of the future, where glass will not break and the previously broken glass will be reconstituted. The more we think of and introduce the future into the present, the more powerful our marriages will become and the closer we will come to the final Redemption!

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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