A Tale of Two Judgments

December 24, 2023

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky told a tale about a poor groom who, due to limited funds, could not afford a skilled tailor and instead entrusted his wedding suit to a less competent one. The result was disastrous: one sleeve turned out ridiculously short and the other unusually long, while the pants were twisted bizarrely. On his wedding day, the groom had to maneuver his body to fit into this poorly-made suit, shortening one arm, elongating the other, and bending his leg in an awkward angle. As he clumsily shuffled down the aisle, guests were shocked, feeling pity for the bride but ironically admiring the tailor’s perceived ingenuity in outfitting such a uniquely shaped client.

Rabbi Kamenetzky uses this story to shed light on a striking aspect of the biblical narrative of Joseph and his brothers.

Years after selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers encountered him again in Egypt, where they had gone in search of food. Amid a severe regional famine, Egypt thrived, thanks to Joseph’s foresight and administrative skills. Now a powerful viceroy, Joseph was unrecognizable to his brothers. But instead of revealing his identity, he behaved enigmatically, accusing them of espionage, detaining Simeon, and demanding they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt. Even with Benjamin before him, Joseph maintained his facade, falsely accusing him of theft.

Why did Joseph adopt this approach with his brothers? What lesson was he trying to impart through this elaborate charade? Joseph wanted his brothers to confront their past misjudgments and understand that things aren’t always as they seem. They stood facing the viceroy of Egypt, the very man who saved the world from famine, who was exhibiting seemingly irrational behavior. Similarly, they had misinterpreted their younger brother and his dreams, judged him unworthy, and sold him into slavery. Like the guests at the poor groom’s wedding, they were quick to assume, failing to look beyond the surface to discern the truth about their brother.

This idea also parallels a core message of Hanukkah, observed during the weeks when the story of Joseph and his brothers is read. While the military victory of the Jews over the Greeks was extraordinary, Hanukkah primarily celebrates the miracle of the oil: a small amount, seemingly enough for only one day, miraculously lasted eight. This too emphasizes that first impressions can be deceptive and that initial judgments often need reevaluation.

In observing Hanukkah and revisiting the story of Joseph, we are encouraged to look past superficial appearances and seek deeper truths. The flames of the menorah and Joseph’s rise from a disparaged brother to a respected leader symbolize the unseen strengths and potential in the seemingly ordinary or insignificant. As Rabbi Kamenetzky taught, a little bit of oil, like a pesky younger brother, both initially underestimated, can indeed illuminate our path.

Let us always remember to reevaluate our perspectives, see beyond initial impressions, and discover the extraordinary in what might at first seem mundane.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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