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In today's parsha, we read:

וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יוֹסֵף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵהֶם וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָעֲגָלוֹת אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם.
And they spoke (vay-dabru) to [Jacob] all the words (divrei) of Joseph that he said (dibber) to them, and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to him, and the spirit of Jacob his father was restored to life. (Gen. 45:27)

What struck me about this verse was the emphasis on the root D-B-R (which doesn't come across so well in the English.)

What were these words? Rashi quotes a midrash from the gemara that Joseph reminded his father that when last they were together, they had been studying the laws of the egla arufah, the calf with the broken neck, and that the wagons (agalot, a pun on egla) were an allusion to this, and this was a way to confirm his identity. I find that explanation.... fanciful.

Let's set this question aside for a moment and ask another one.

Why did Joseph test his brothers? Some commentators say it was to give them a chance to perform teshuvah gemurah, complete return from sin, by placing them in essentially the same situation they were in when he was kidnapped, so they could demonstrate that they would not respond in the same way. Some say it was so he could determine whether Benjamin needed rescuing from his brothers. Both are good answers, but I want to suspend that question for a moment as well.

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of Vayeshev, Joseph brings to his father a bad report about the activities of some of his brothers. And what does Jacob do?

וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי דָּבָר וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה.
And [Jacob] said to [Joseph]: Go now, please, and look into the shalom of your brothers ... and return word (davar) to me.... (Gen. 37:14)

Here's the word D-B-R again. Decades ago, Jacob asked Joseph to send him word about the shalom of his brothers. Usually, this expression means the person's well-being, but it can also relate to their shleimut, their wholeness. Perhaps Jacob wanted to know if his sons were whole people.

And so now we can return to my two questions. Perhaps Joseph remembered the task his father had given him, which he has yet to fulfill.

But now that his brothers appear before him, he doesn't know the answer to his father's question: Have his brothers become shaleim in the intervening years?

So he tests them. He finds out whether they have done complete teshuvah, so that he can finally complete his father's assignment and return word to Jacob that his brothers have indeed, after all that transpired, become whole.

Shabbat Shalom.
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Andrew M. Greene

January 2013


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