Sunday, December 24, 2017

ha'od avi chai?

"Ani Yosef -- Ha'od avi chai?" 

Surely Yosef was aware that his father was still alive, as he had been told so already numerous times by his brothers.  Yehudah had just finished arguing that Binyamin must be allowed to return home lest his absence cause Ya'akov's death.  So what was Yosef asking?

Rashi in Parshas VaYeishev (37:2) tells us that Ya'akov and Yosef shared many similarities.  Not only were their life stories similar, but, says Rashi, they even looked alike.

Yosef therefore wondered: granted that when he left home he was still young and had no beard, but even so, how could his brothers fail to recognize him?  He was the spitting image of their father -- how could they stand before him, eat with him, meet with him multiple times, and fail to see that it was him? 

Perhaps, worried Yosef, a little too much of Egypt had rubbed off on him.  Perhaps that resemblance to Ya'akov, which was as much a product of a spiritual resemblance as much as physical looks, had been lost. 

Yosef's first question therefore was "Is my father still alive?" -- do you see his image alive within me?  Do I still resemble my father?   Or have I become just another Egyptian?

"V'lo yachlu echav la'anos oso ki nivhalu mi'PANAV."  Suddenly the brothers saw the truth -- the face they were looking at, the face of Yosef, was the face of Ya'akov Avinu.  Despite all that had happened, their brother Yosef had not lost that resemblance, physical and spiritual, to their father Ya'akov.

Isn't this the question we all need to ask ourselves?  When we look in the mirror, do we see our parents and grandparents reflected there?  "Ha'od avi chai?"  Or do we see a foreign face, someone with foreign values and a foreign lifestyle, someone who looks nothing like the past that he/she came from?

(Based on R' Chaim Charlap's Mayan Chaim here)


  1. An important corollary based on R' Chaim Shmulevitz. After seventeen years in Mitzrayim, and with Menashe being meshamesh him, what was Yaakov asking: מי אלה about Yosef's sons. Says R' Chaim of course he could identify them, but when it came to giving brochos, he looked at them differently, from a different perspective,to decide if they were worthy. In that perspective, he had never seen them before. [Compare to Yitzchok's suddenly different perspective on Esav, where instead of his favorite son, he suddenly saw gehinom.]

    The shevatim expected to see a sheigetz - albeit a great and powerful one - and that's all they saw. Their perspective was limited by their preconceptions. It was only when they realized that this was Yosef could they truly see his face - and suddenly, that was the face of Ya'akov.

    Your question on the image in the mirror requires a precondition: that we actually look for, seek out, the yid looking back at us. Only then can we evalute that yid. This examination is not passive; it requires an understanding of what we are looking for. And why.

    1. so what to look for? and why?
      (it sounds like you've some very definite ideas here, but leave us hanging in the great unknown!)

      (on the other hand, if one offers his grandfather's answers [and these be his grandfather's questions], then it's the grandfather looking in the mirror, rather than the grandson; or perhaps it's the grandfather's grandfather who does the looking, until we reach Yaakov The First who, drinking from a reflective oasis in the desert, suddenly sees that it's Avraham who drinks, that it's Avraham who--alone of Jews--wonders who in the world he's looking at, sighting in himself "values" and a "lifestyle" utterly "foreign" to Terach's [but wonders only momentarily, for once G-d recognizes Avraham, he really doesn't need to recognize himself])