One who does not allow others to reciprocate ensures, albeit unintentionally, that the relationship remains one of debtor and benefactor.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), meaning “He approached” and referring to Judah approaching Joseph, the Governor of Egypt, not knowing that the powerful official was actually his brother!
When Joseph finally does reveal his identity to his brothers, they are all shocked, to say the least. They were frightened too! They were worried that Joseph might take revenge on them for having sold him, let alone the near-attempted murder.
Joseph quickly reassures them that he bears no grudge and desires no revenge. He tells them, “It was not you who sent me down here, but God! It is He who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt.” Joseph is not angry. He tells them that it is not their fault that he had arrived in Egypt and that it was all part of the Divine plan.
The Midrash (interpretation of biblical texts) offers a beautiful insight based on this exchange.
The Almighty: Leading by Example
When God gave the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting the Menorah in the Holy Temple, He commented: “I do not need the light of the Menorah…. I am the source of all light! I light up the entire world! Rather, I want you to light a menorah in the Holy Temple to recall that I had provided light for you throughout the 40 years of wandering in the desert. I want to give the opportunity to “return” the favor.”
The rabbis teach that we can learn a special lesson from this Midrashic teaching, namely, proper etiquette. When someone does a favor for another person, the beneficiary will often approach the benefactor and ask how he might be able to repay the kindness. He wants to know how he can best reciprocate.
What is the proper response in such a situation?
Most people would instantly say that the proper response would be to shrug off the favor and say, “Don’t worry! It was my pleasure. You don’t have to pay me back.”
But the Midrash clearly teaches us otherwise. The Midrash is telling us that it is healthy for the beneficiary to reciprocate. In fact, allowing him to reciprocate will ensure that the beneficiary does not feel indebted. Allowing him to reciprocate actually shows sensitivity to that person’s feeling of debt.
Beware of an Unhealthy Relationship
Indeed, one who does not allow others to reciprocate ensures, albeit unintentionally, that the relationship remains one of debtor and benefactor. In such an arrangement, the benefactor might feel deep down that “this guy still owes me big time,” and the beneficiary would likely be thinking along the same lines. Such a relationship is unhealthy. It could lead to arrogance, anger, jealousy and a whole slew of other negative emotions.
Hence, it may just be the right thing to say to a person for whom we have done a favor: “You know, there is something you can do for me!” This ensures that the benefactor will not have a continuous, or even permanent, feeling of indebtedness. Rather, allow him the dignity of being able to reciprocate.
So now we realize that God truly does not need the light of the Menorah. Rather, he is giving us the opportunity to reciprocate His kindness! And this is why Joseph quickly assured his brothers that he felt no grudge and wanted no revenge, telling them that everything was part of the Divine plan. He did not want them to feel a sense of guilt for the rest of their lives.
One small passage from the Torah. One giant lesson in etiquette.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights on this week’s Torah reading from Rabbi Ari Enkin, click on the links below: