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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Yonah Burr

Vayechi: A Word is a Word

וידבר יוסף אל בית פרעה לאמר אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניכם דברו נא באזני פרעה לאמר: אבי השביעני לאמר הנה אנכי מת בקברי אשר כריתי לי בארץ כנען שמה תקברני ועתה אעלה נא ואקברה את אבי ואשובה: ויאמר פרעה עלה וקבר את אביך כאשר השביעך:

Yosef spoke to Pharaoh’s household, saying, “If you please- if I have found favor in your eyes, speak now in the ears of Pharaoh, saying: My father had adjured me, saying, ‘Behold, I am about to die: in my grave which I have hewn for myself in the land of Canaan- there you are to bury me’. Now, I will go up if you please, and bury my father; then I will return. And Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father as he adjured you.

Much emphasis is placed on the fact that Yaakov ‘adjured’ Yosef to bury him in Canaan. Why did Yosef stress this to Pharaoh, and why did Pharaoh also respond, ‘go up and bury your father as he adjured you’. Why the need for an oath?

The gemara in meseches Sotah tells us, that really Pharaoh did not want to grant Yosef permission to leave Egypt, even temporarily, to bury Yaakov. Yosef needed to implore Pharaoh because of the oath; Pharaoh responded, ‘so annul your oath!’ to which Yosef replied, if I annul the oath I made to my father, I will also annul the oath that I made to You!’. The gemara explains that Yosef had a leverage over Pharaoh for years, because try as he may, Pharaoh was unable to master the holy Hebrew tongue; Pharaoh had Yosef swear that he would not reveal this secret to anyone. So, Yosef was able to say, if I annul my vow to my father, I will annul my vow to you as well. immediately, Pharaoh relented, and said, ‘go bury your father as he adjured you’.

The question is, wouldn’t Yosef be frightened to ‘threaten’ Pharaoh so, and wouldn’t it be a tremendous sign of disrespect to speak this way to the king?

Rav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky z”l’ shares with us a deep insight. Human nature is such, that we are affected by our actions. If we keep something sacrosanct, it will remain so, but if we start to lower our standard, then our respect for that level will be lost entirely.

Yosef wasn’t threatening Pharaoh; he was simply explaining that a word is only as good as a word. If you allow me to keep my word inviolable, then just as I gave my word to my father, I gave my word to you. But if I can start violating my word, then my promise is cheapened all around; if I don’t keep my promise to my father, even my commitment to you is weakened; therefore, it is in your best interest to require me to keep my commitments to everyone.

We sometimes feel that we can violate our standards from time to time, and still remain on the same level. Our Sages our teaching us that this is not the case- only if we steadfastly uphold our standards and commitments can we be assured that they are really true and reliable!

Have a wonderful Shabbos!

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