Vayigash: Pharaoh Exposed ~ Tzvi Abrahams
פֹּטִי פֶרַע: Potiphar
לְמַפְרֵעַ: retroactive, to nullify
מַפְרִיעַ: to disturb, to distance
פְּרִיעָה: part of bris milah
וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה וַיֹּאמֶר בִּי אֲדֹנִי יְדַבֶּר נָא עַבְדְּךָ דָבָר בְּאָזְנֵי אֲדֹנִי וְאַל יִחַר אַפְּךָ בְּעַבְדֶּךָ כִּי כָמוֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹה And Yehudah approached him (Yosef) and said, “My lord, please allow your servant to speak of a matter in the ears of my lord, and do not be angry with your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.”1
What does “for you are like Pharaoh” mean? One of the explanations given by Rashi is that just like Pharaoh was struck with צָרַעַת/tzara’as when he abducted Sarah, so too Yehudah was saying to Yosef that if he won’t listen, he too will be struck down with צָרַעַת like Pharaoh.
Pharaoh is the one chosen to be the bad character in Hashem’s play. פַּרְעֹה/Pharaoh shares the same root as פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת/retribution; not only is he punished middah k’neged middah/measure for measure, but he is also punished first. Hashem teaches a lesson through Pharaoh, namely that there is פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת/retribution in the world. Just like there is reward for the righteous in the World to Come, there is also a time when the wicked have to pay their debts. And since Pharaoh is the one who instigated the whole plan of enslaving the Jews, appropriately the retribution starts with him.2
The middah k’neged middah/measure for measure punishment that Pharaoh received for taking Avraham’s wife was nega’im gedolim, a type of צָרַעַת/tzara’as that was so painful it prevented him from having relations with Sarah.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, the people are seen by Moshe in a state of disgrace, as the pasuk says: וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת הָעָם כִּי פָרֻעַ הוּא כִּי פְרָעֹה אַהֲרֹן לְשִׁמְצָה בְּקָמֵיהֶם And Moshe saw the people that they were exposed, for Aharon had exposed them to disgrace those who rise up against them.3
The Kli Yakar quotes the Midrash that says the people were struck with צָרַעַת, explaining that the reason for צָרַעַת was to bring out into the light the wickedness that is inside the heart of the sinner. צָרַעַת exposes the sin.
So on a deeper level, when Yehudah was saying to Yosef that כִּי כָּמוֹךְ כְּפַרְעֹה/you are like Pharaoh, he meant that he will be struck with צָרַעַת, i.e., that in the end Yosef will be exposed for sinning against the brothers.
Incidentally, the English word pariah, meaning a social outcast, fits nicely with Pharaoh, who is exposed to צָרַעַת — by definition a social outcast.
Regarding the מְצוֹרָע, the Gemara quotes the pasukin Vayikra:וְרֹאשׁוֹ יִהְיֶה פָרוּעַ,4and says, וְאֵין פְּרִיעָה אֶלָא גִידוּל שֵׂעַר, that when the head is exposed, it is referring to the growing of the hair.5Hair, like the fingernails, is the only part of the body that continues to grow; it seems to have a life of its own. Growing one’s hair symbolizes independence and rebellion, like the hippies of the 1960s, whereas the shaving of one’s hair symbolizes conforming to the rules, like soldiers who are no longer independent and relinquish control to a higher authority. Therefore, the growing of themetzora’shair signifies the exposing of his sin, of rebelling against Hashem. When the metzorais finally cured after doing teshuvah, his hair is cut, symbolizing one’s acceptance to reconform to the rules.
The Sotah woman’s hair is also exposed, exposing her sin of secluding herself with another man. In contrast, the covering of a married woman’s hair symbolizes her acquiescence to be under the control of her בַּעַל/husband.
פֹּטִי פֶרַע: Potiphar
Potiphar’s name changed to פֹּטִי פֶרַע, so called because his sin was exposed in that he originally bought Yosef on the pretext of having relations with him. Hashem caused him to become castrated, revealing to us the nature of his sin, middah k’neged middah.
לְמַפְרֵעַ: Retroactive, To Nullify
לְמַפְרֵעַ means to go back on something as if it never happened — to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Included in this is someone who goes back on his word, to which the Mishnah in Bava Metziasays that Hashem will exact retribution on one who goes back on his word just like He did with the generation of The Flood and the generation of The Dispersion.6And so too with the Egyptians for not keeping their word, for פַּרְעֹה promised many times to let the people go but went back on his word. Retribution was exacted on them when they drowned in the sea, middah k’neged middah for drowning the Jewish baby boys.
פִּרְעִיוֹן חוֹב is used when we are talking about the payment of a loan. In essence, we are retroactively nullifying the loan; we are giving back what we took. So too in the spiritual realm, anyone who takes from the world or perverts it has a חוֹב/debt to settle, where eventually Hashem will say: “It’s payback time.”
מַפְרִיעַ: To Disturb, To Distance
וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם לָמָּה מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן תַּפְרִיעוּ [enq]And Pharaoh says to Moshe and Aharon, “Why are you disturbing the people from their work?”7
One who is מַפְרִיעַ bothers someone from doing something good, in essence taking from him, and eventually will have to pay back.
פְּרִיעָה: Part of Bris Milah
After the orlah is cut, the membrane is torn back, exposing the עַטָרָה/crown. When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he literally revealed himself by showing his bris milah to prove his identity, as the Midrash Tanchuma says:וְלֹא הָיוּ מַאֲמִינִים בּוֹ,עַד שֶׁפָּרַע אֶת עַצְמוֹ וְהֶרְאָה לָהֶם חוֹתַם בְּרִית.8
Adam was born already with the bris; only after the sin, when the nachash entered Adam, was there a need for bris milah in order to remove the klipos, the blockages of the nachash, and curb the desire for women. The bris helps the Jewish People be king over their desires, as opposed to the goyimwho are slaves to their desires.
And this is the quintessential difference between Yosef and Pharoah. Yosef, the סוֹד הַפְּרִיעָה, ruled over himself by guarding the bris. Yosef encompasses the sefirah of yesod/foundation, which is the sphere before malchus/kingship. In other words, in order to crown Hashem King, we first have to be kings over ourselves. פְּרִיעָה, which is גִלּוּי הָעַטָרָה, thus symbolizes that Yosef had this aspect of revealing the crown of kingship. Yosef was known as Yosef HaTzaddik, צַדִיק from the exposition of צַיִד” ק”, i.e., he was able to trap his monkey.9Pharaoh, on the other hand, was ruled by his monkey; he ruled over the עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ/the nakedness of the land. Everything was exposed, somewhat like the Internet today, where nothing is left sacred. גִלּוּיעַרָיוֹת literally means “the revealing of nakedness,” where Egypt was its capital.
One who uses the bris in a kodesh way gives nachas to Hashem. Instead of being מַפְרִיעַ and distancing himself from Hashem, he draws Hashem close; he is the סוֹד הַפְּרִיעָה, whereas פַּרְעֹה/Pharaoh is מַפְרִיעַ/disturbing Hashem — he just takes from Hashem, leaving behind a big חוֹב/debt; you could call him a “פַּרְעֹה-site”! Eventually, though, it’s payback time, and the sins of Egypt are exposed with the ten plagues, middah k’neged middah. At the Yam Suf, פַּרְעֹה, who was born for פֻּרָעְנִיוֹת, finally fulfills his destiny.
Yosef is revealing Kingship, the Kingship of Hashem and rulership of one’s desires, whereas Pharaoh is the opposite he reveals that he is a slave to his desires.
In the Zechusof Bris Milah
The Midrash Tanchumasays that when Yosef finally reveals himself to his brothers, they are completely in shock to the point where their neshamosleave their bodies and they literally die of shock, requiring Hashem to do a din mishpatin Shamayimin order to bring them back. In order to prove his authenticity, Yosef draws them close and shows them his circumcision. However, what kind of proof is this, seeing as how in last week’s parshahwe learn that Yosef ordered all of the Egyptians who came to him for food to first be circumcised!
The Chizkuniaddresses this question and gives three answers:
1: Yosef had priyahon his circumcision, whereas the Egyptians did not.
2: The brothers didn’t know that the Egyptians were circumcised.
3: The rich people in Egypt and the people of power, including Yosef, did not need to buy grain, so they would not have been circumcised.
What exactly was the reason that Yosef made this enactment on the Egyptians? One of the reasons given by Chazal is so that his brothers wouldn’t stick out and be embarrassed when they came down to Egypt. A deeper reason is given by the Kli Yakar. When the Egyptians came to Pharaoh to complain that Yosef would not sell them grain unless they first did circumcision, Pharaoh asked them why they didn’t store their own grain, saying, “You all heard the announcements that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine!” They retorted that they had in fact stored their grain but that it had all rotted. “In that case,” Pharaoh said, “since Yosef has already made a decree on your grain, then you better do what he says before there will be a decree that you will all die.” This is so because עֻרְלָה/orlah, being uncircumcised, is known as a חֶרְפָּה/cherpah, a disgrace, and cherpahis also used in connection with famine. The two are connected because the orlahis פְּסוֹלֶת/pesoles, excess skin that is not needed, and by removing it one removes the place where fungus and mold builds up. So too, there is pesolesin grain that causes it to rot, and so in the merit of bris milah,if one removes the pesoleswithin him, middah k’neged middah Hashem will remove the pesolesin the grain, which is impossible for man to do.
This is the reason why Yosef was the only one in Egypt whose grain did not rot. Because he had bris milahand protected it by going against his nature when it came to being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, he was able to save all the grain brought to him. Furthermore, this is why the Yam Suf split and went against its nature when it saw the bones of Yosef.
At the Yam Suf, Hashem had filled the pockets of the Bnei Yisrael with all the gold of Egypt, which they then used in the sin of the Golden Calf. The Gemara in Brachosgives a mashal, asking that if you looked after your child and dressed him in nice clothes, lined his pockets with gold, and then placed him outside a brothel, would he not sin?10So too, in a way, that’s what Hashem did with the Bnei Yisrael. Yosef, on the other hand, stood up to the test. Even though Hashem created him with extremely good looks — the only man in the Torah to be described as beautiful — and then placed him in Egypt, the biggest brothel of the whole world, would we not expect him to sin? Not so Yosef, who went against his nature and was thus the only one worthy in Egypt whose crop did not rot.
Yosef was trying to do a tikkunwithin Egypt. Egypt was the most promiscuous place in the whole world, steeped in זְנוּת/immorality. The Zoharsays that the generation in Egypt was comprised of the reincarnated souls that Adam created when he spilled his seed after separating from Eve for 130 years after she had caused him to sin. These souls needed a tikkunand this is what Yosef was trying to accomplish by requiring them to do bris milah.
It says in Mishlei that all who sleep with a zonah will end up in poverty, requesting bread.11These were the Egyptians who were so steeped in זְנוּת that they lost everything — they lost all their money, sold their lands, and even themselves in order to attain bread.
So coming back to our question, what kind of proof was it that Yosef showed his brothers that he was circumcised? Yosef was the only one worthy of having grain in Egypt because he had bris milahand was shomerthe bris, while everyone else was steeped in zenusand as a result had their grain rot. This was the proof that Yosef was showing them: that everything was in the zechusof bris milah.
2Sotah11a; see also Rashi to Shemos 14:4.
6Bava Metzia chap. 4.
8See Appendix ii, which asks how this proved anything, seeing as how Rashi explains in Parshas Miketzthat all the Egyptians did bris milah.
9Where קוּף can also be read קוֹףmeaning monkey.