Selected Sermon/Article
2001-12-22 Vayigash by Rav Ze'ev Smason
Please Apologize

Parshas Vayigash 12/22/01 Aufrauf of Craig Schranz and Joanna Poscover "Please Apologize"

A football coach had a star quarterback who was as dumb as a goalpost. The only way the kid could stay on the team would be to pass all his classes, which was impossible. All his teachers agreed to go easy on him except for one, his math teacher. The coach begged the math teacher not to fail the kid. The math teacher agreed to give the boy an oral exam which, if he passed, would count for class credit. The coach came to the exam to support his star athlete. The math teacher asked only one question for the exam: "What is two plus two?"

"Four," the athlete answered.

The football coach went into a panic and yelled, "Give him another chance! Just one more chance!

" Someone once said, 'to err is human, to forgive, divine.' The importance of 'giving someone another chance' is highlighted in this week's Torah portion.

If we look at the dramatic story of Yosef , we saw both last week and this his incredible rise from slavery, to becoming the viceroy of Egypt and the man who single-handedly saved that country from famine.

Yosef dealt quite harshly with his brothers, however, and accused them of being spies. He maneuvered to have them bring their brother Binyamin to Egypt and -- after showing open favoritism to Binyamin -- sends them on their way, but not before planting his silver goblet in Binyamin's bag. When the brothers are searched, Binyamin is accused of theft, Yosef proposes to keep Binyamin prisoner, but his brothers intercede, offering to remain in Binyamin's place.

A question that begs to be asked, is the following; why did Yosef create all this drama? Was it for sheer revenge that he put his brothers through the wringer? An even more nagging question in the story of Yosef is; after becoming viceroy, why didn't Yosef send a message to his grief-stricken father to let him know that he was alive and well? After all, Yosef had plenty of clout in Egypt. Yosef surely could have sent a quick e-mail saying, 'Dear Dad -- it's me, Yosef, and I'm still alive!'

There's a story from Dwight Eisenhower's academy days that helps shed some light on these difficulties from the parsha.

It was an accepted practice at West Point, where Ike attended, for upper class men to haze the freshmen, or 'plebes." One day one of the plebes bumped into Eisenhower, an unpardonable offense. Eisenhower, who was a second year student at the time, responded by yelling and screaming at the young cadet. Thinking of the most demeaning insult he could summon, Eisenhower told the plebe that he looked like a barber. At this, the man lost his composure, and filled with shame said, "I am a barber."

Eisenhower made a hasty retreat to his room, and told his roommate what transpired. He said, "I've just done something that was stupid and unforgivable. I just made a man ashamed of the work he did to earn a living."

At that moment, Eisenhower vowed that he would never belittle a person again. Even when he became the leader of the Allied forces during WW2, and even as President of the United States, Eisenhower claimed to have never broken that promise. He decided early in life to encourage, rather than discourage.

To return to the questions we raised regarding Yosef's treatment of his brothers, Yosef could easily have forgiven his brothers on the spot, the moment they came to Egypt. It's certain that the man who is called 'Yosef ha'Tzadik' was not seeking revenge. But Yosef felt that graciously forgiving his brothers for their terrible misdeeds would have left them feeling humiliated, and racked with tormenting guilt the rest of their lives.

Yosef decided to maneuver events so that his brothers would be in a position where they would be tempted to repeat the same offense, that they had committed against him. Binyamin had now taken Yosef's place as their father's favorite. The brother's readiness to sacrifice their lives in order to return Binyamin indicated that they had overcome their character defect of jealousy. They would now not merely be forgiven, but also proud of their growth, and their self-esteem would be preserved.

All of this would now have been possible has Yosef notified his father of his whereabouts. This would have denied his brothers the opportunity to redeem themselves, and would have forever left them as groveling penitents.

Most of us find it extremely difficult to ask for forgiveness from others. Many of us are like the man who wrote the IRS the following note:

Dear IRS,

I can't sleep at night so I'm enclosing $100.

p.s. If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest.

There's a world of difference between someone who begrudgingly accepts an apology, and a person who creatively and proactively makes it as easy as possible for the person who wronged them to save face, and apologize. The institution of marriage is a proving ground for numerous difficult tests of character, such as the challenge that Yosef faced, and succeeded in.

Most of you here today haven't had the opportunity to meet two young people of exceptional character; Craig Schranz, and Joanna Poscover, whose wedding is scheduled for tomorrow evening. During the course of what all of us hope will be a very long and very happy life together, I can guarantee you that sometime during your married life, Craig and Joanna, that someone is going to need to apologize for something. pIt was Yosef's strength of character that enabled him to provide his brothers with an opportunity to essentially undo their sin against him. Yosef encouraged his brothers to change, and made asking for forgiveness as painless as was possible.

With your sterling character traits, maturity beyond your years, and the rock-solid foundation of support and encouragement from your devoted parents and family, our congregation here at NHBZ prays that you'll be able to pass such tests in your marriage with flying colors. We pray that you'll have a long life together filled with devotion to God and His Torah, unquestioned loyalty and devotion to each other, and the opportunity to build a 'Bais Ne'eman B'Yisrael' -- a faithful household amongst the Jewish people.