Master of Memory VII-A Long Speech

Dec 27th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, Prayer
“Good deeds can be shortly stated, but where wrong is done, a wealth of language is needed to hide its deformity (Thucydides).”

Wow! Judah’s speech to the Egyptian viceroy is certainly a long one. What made him think that the Viceroy would allow him to make such a lengthy presentation? If Judah was speaking through an interpreter, the speech would have been twice as long. I can’t imagine anyone in the Egypt of that time believing that he could make such a long speech.

What is even more powerful, is that this speech was not through an interpreter! Judah spoke directly to the Viceroy; “Then Judah approached him and said (to see Genesis 44:18).” Judah suspected that the Viceroy did understand every word the brothers had been speaking all along.

“Then they said to one another, Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother.” “Reuben spoke up to them.” “Now they did not know that Joseph understood, for an interpreter was between them. He turned away from them and wept; he returned to them and spoke to them; he took Simeon from them and imprisoned him before their eyes (Verses 21–23).” Did they not expect the Egyptian viceroy to ask the interpreter what they had been saying to each other? Why would they have such a “private” conversation right in front of the Viceroy and his interpreter?

We have another problem with that scene: “’Then bring your youngest brother to me so your words will be verified.’ And they did so (Verse 20).” What did they do? They did not send one of the brothers back to Canaan to fetch Benjamin.

Their “private” conversation in front of the Viceroy was their message to him that they were willing to do as he asked. We already explained in “Master of Memory IV” that Joseph was pushing them to become better listeners. Their internal conversation was their indication to the Viceroy that they had learned their lesson. They began to understand the subtleties of this man’s approach. He was clearly a superb listener. They intended for him to “overhear” their private conversation.

However, the Viceroy never asks for his interpreter to report what the brothers had said to each other. He turns aside for a few moments, “returns to them and spoke to them,” but the verse never tells us what he said when he spoke to them; it only says that, “he took Simeon from them and imprisoned him before their eyes.”

The Sages explain, that when the verse says, “They then said to one another,” it was Simeon conversing with Levi. When the Viceroy imprisons Simeon, he is sending a message to them that he clearly understood what they had been saying to each other.

The Viceroy was clearly an excellent listener, sufficiently so, that Judah knew he could directly approach the Viceroy for his speech, and speak as long as he wanted and the Viceroy would listen!

Judah approaches the Viceroy directly as a message that he understands that there have been subtle messages all along conveyed by the Master of Memory pushing them to confront their past. He therefore goes into a lengthy exposition of the family’s history. Judah is telling the Viceroy that he has learned the Viceroy’s message, and has become a better listener.

The brothers are overwhelmed by intense emotions at this moment when they stand to lose Benjamin. They are confronting what they had done to Joseph, how they had treated their father, how they had failed to truly live as brothers. It was impossible for Judah to give a short speech. He had to process all these deep and painful emotions. He not only acknowledged the Viceroy’s lesson of becoming listeners; he expresses to the Viceroy that they have all learned to listen to their own hearts and emotions.

No wonder, the Sages teach that when Jacob meets Joseph for the first time after so many years of separation, Jacob says the Shema: Jacob was acknowledging that the family had been reunified; and important aspect of the Shema; Unity. Jacob was also sending a message to Joseph, that his wise son had succeeded in teaching his brothers how to become the people who could recite the Shema; how to become good listeners.

Jacob is reminding us that we cannot properly recite the Shema unless we too, are good listeners. We must be good listeners to what others are saying and feeling, and, we must become people who are very skilled at listening to our own hearts.

Author Info:
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