In this week’s Torah reading we learn that upon doing a good deed, asking for a favor in return is, in fact, the more gentlemanly way to act.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18–47:27), and in it we read how Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. When he does, the brothers are shocked. They cannot believe that Egypt’s second-in-command is their long-lost brother whom they had sold as a slave – after deciding not to murder him.
The brothers are now worried that Joseph will pay them back. Revenge.
Joseph sees the worry on their faces but reassures them, saying that everything that happened was part of God’s plan and that he has no hard feelings towards them. “It was not you who sent me down here, but God. He has made me like a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the entire land of Egypt.” [Gen 45:8].
Commenting on this exchange, the Midrash (rabbinic literature) explains that the verse just quoted parallels the Menorah and the mitzva (Torah commandment) to light it in the Holy Temple. It is explained that God does not actually need the light of the Menorah, as He is the light of the world. Therefore, the light of the Menorah was more symbolic than anything else. God gave us the mitzva of lighting the Menorah in order to allow us to “pay Him back” for having given us light during the 40 years of wandering in the desert.
Our sages teach that herein lies a lesson in etiquette. When one does a favor for another person, the recipient often asks how he or she can reciprocate. Most people may wrongly assume that the more noble response to such a request would be, for example, “Don’t worry about it,” or “You don’t have to pay me back.”
The Midrash seems to be saying that we should indeed state a favor or kindness that that would allow a person to return a favor. This is because, teaches the Midrash, the more sensitive thing to do is to ensure that the other person is not left with a sense of indebtedness and, by extension, always feeling that the relationship is one of a debtor and benefactor rather than friendship. Also, if a favor is not returned, the benefactor may become arrogant.
Here we learn that asking for a favor in return is, in fact, the more gentlemanly way to act. The returned favor need not be as big or important as the original, but it could bring a sense of closure and equality.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insight by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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