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Parshas Mikeitz - Changing Faces Over Time  3 Teves 5781

12/18/2020 11:39:18 AM


A few weeks ago I received an innocent call asking for a character reference for someone in the community. This is a common occurrence; many people list their local community rabbi on their CV as a reference. In most cases, my wife or I neither know or even  recognize the name of the person requesting the referral. This time I did not recognize the number, but the caller ID was a name that rang a bell.

The caller was someone I had known over thirty-five years ago while learning in yeshiva. After chatting a bit, he informed me about yet another WhatsApp group called ‘Rabbi Wein’s YST Alumni’ (The YST stands for Yeshiva Shaarei Torah). In only a few short clicks, I was transported back to my post- high school yeshiva days where I had spent seven wonderful years as both a bachur and also in Kollel. After I was introduced, I scrolled down through the one-hundred plus participants and wondered if I were in the correct chat. Although the area codes matched the locale from which most of the participants came, I still did not recognize many of their names. This is understandable;  I was only in the Yeshiva for a small part of its long history. There were many students who had learned there before me and many more who came after I left. Nevertheless, we all came together, having  a common bond - the Yeshiva building, the Rabbeim and, of course, the memories. I would venture to claim that most people in any social situation over a span of years (especially school years) could ever imagine not recognizing those with whom they were close to from that time long into the future.  If asked, most everyone would quip,, ”Of course I will remember who that person was.” Yet, our memories play tricks on us; it does not even take a long absence before we tend to forget people. This phenomenon is not so far from what we read about in the Torah this week.

In this week’s Parshas Mikeitz, the Torah states in Bereishis 42:8 "ויכר יוסף את אחיו, והם לא הכרהו"  “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. The Piltzer Rebbe, Rav Pinchas Yustman in his work Sifsei Tzaddik, explains why the brothers did not recognize Yosef. To strengthen the question, the Midrash says that the image or portrait of Yosef looked exactly like his father, Yaakov. If so, the brothers knew what their father looked like.  Shouldn’t they have easily been able to recognize Yosef? Despite Rashi ‘s explanation that when they sold Yosef, he did not have a beard and now he had one, it should not have made a difference. Yosef having a beard should not detract from his resemblance to his father. Rav Yustman answers that Yosef was now thirty-nine years old and resembled Yaakov when he was a thirty-nine-year-old. Yosef looked like his father when his father was that age of thirty-nine. But the brothers did not know what their father looked like when he was that age. (They must have lost the family album.) Since Yaakov married when he was eighty-four, obviously his children did not know what he looked like over sixty years before his marriage.  

 Perhaps, through this understanding of the passuk, I realize why I did not remember many of the names on the chat. I was satisfied until a zoom meeting was arranged so that Rabbi Wein could speak to the alumni of the high school and the current Yeshiva guys. I was excited to see some of the faces I had not seen in over three decades. Then reality struck a second time, and this time it hurt even more. Okay, let alone some of the guys chose not to show their faces and only displayed their names, but others had covered-up their names! Maybe some knew who they are, but others did not. The real challenge was the reality of how the zoom boxes of those showing their faces and their correct identities were still unrecognizable!  I could not believe it, considering I have not changed at all. To be fair, I am sure the feelings were mutual, but at least I had my video with the proper name displayed. Once again, I thought to myself, ”How is it possible for me to not recognize these guys whom I saw day in and day out!”

The Kli Yakar asks why, in consecutive pesukim, there is no mention of Yosef recognizing his brothers?  The passuk before, in Bereishis 42:7, states  "וירא יוסף את אחיו ויכרם, ויתנכר: אליהם וידבר אתם קשות ויאמר אלהם מאין באתם ויאמרו מארץ כנען אשבר אכל"   “Yosef recognized his brothers as soon as he saw them, but he behaved like a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where are you from?” He asked. “From the land of Canaan to buy food.” Why does the Torah need to repeat a second time - in verse 8 - that Yosef recognized the brothers? Rav Lunchitz explains that the first time it states ‘recognized’ refers to the structure of each face that caused him to recognize who they were. The second recognition regarded the brotherhood and rachmanus/pity. Others explain that initially Yosef recognized them, but then behaved like a stranger towards them, as though he did not recognize them. But after they responded that they were from the land of Canaan,  he had complete recognition, supporting his initial hunch that they were, indeed, his brothers. The Iben Ezra notes that at first he was in doubt as to who was whom, meaning who was Reuvain and who was Shimon. After he spoke to them a bit, he was able to connect the pieces together and recognized them individually.

The Torah itself reconciles the repetitiveness through experiencing a clearer picture of who the brothers were in the eyes of Yosef. It took time and a few moments to reflect, to see each brother in order to conclude how he [Yosef] did know with certainty who they were. But this could not occur immediately; it took a little time. So too, if someone does not initially appear familiar, yet you feel you know them, take it slowly, look back, try to detect the features of a person which never change.  Chances are good that you will figure out who the person is.  Perhaps the larger and more important lesson is that it takes time to recognize qualities and characteristics in people whom we do not know. A changing face does not mean a change of heart. But a change of heart at times changes the face that will over time become unrecognizable. Hopefully, years from now, we’ll all pull out of our photo boxes and see each other with clarity of memory, recognizing one another face-to-face regardless of the years and events of time.  

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Pinchas Menachem Elazar Yustman (1848-1920) was known as the Piltzer Rebbe. In his early years known as Reb Mendel of Ger was a Chasidic Rabbi who after the passing of his brother-in-law Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, became a Rebbe for some Gerrer Hasidim, in Pilica, Poland.

He was born in Góra Kalwaria, his father Rabbi Binyamin Leizer Yustman and mother Tzina Pesa (née Alter), daughter of the Chiddushei Harim the first Gerrer Rebbe. His mother died when he was young. Orphaned of his mother, he was brought up by his grandparents, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (known as the Chiddushei Harim) and his wife. When he was about nine years old, his grandfather took him to visit the Kotzker Rebbe, an event which left a lifelong impression on him. He married Hendel Lea, daughter of his uncle Abraham Mordechai Alter, in 1864.

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782