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    It was the final examination for an introductory Biology course at the university. Like many such freshman courses, it was designed to weed out new students, having over 500 students in the class!

    The examination was two hours long, and exam booklets were provided. The professor was extremely strict and told the class that any exam that was not on his desk in exactly two hours would not be accepted and the student would fail. Half of an hour into the exam, a student came rushing in and asked the professor for an exam booklet.

    “You’re not going to have time to finish this,” the professor stated sarcastically as he handed the student a booklet.

    “Yes, I will,” replied the student. He then took a seat and began writing. After two hours, the professor called for the exams, and the students filed up and handed them in. All except the late student, who continued writing. An hour later, the last student came up to the professor who was sitting at his desk preparing for his next class. He attempted to put his exam on the stack of exam booklets already there.

    “No, I’m not going to accept that. It’s late.”

    The student looked incredulous and angry.

    “Do you know who I am?”

    “No,” replied the professor with an air of sarcasm in his voice.

    “Do you know who I am?” the student asked again in a louder voice.

    “No, and I don’t care,” replied the professor with hubris.

    “Good,” replied the student, who quickly lifted the stack of completed exams, stuffed his in the middle, and walked out of the room.

    A Brother’s Identity Disclosed

    The story of Joseph revealing himself to his brothers after decades of bitter separation is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah. Twenty-two years earlier, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers despising their younger kin, kidnapped him, threw him into a pit, and then sold him as a slave to Egyptian merchants. In Egypt, he spent twelve years in prison, from where he rose to become viceroy of the country that was the superpower at the time. Now, more than two decades later, the moment was finally ripe for reconciliation.

    Genesis chapter 45 described the emotional reunion:

    Joseph could not hold in his emotions, he dismissed all of his Egyptian assistants from his chamber, thus, no one else was present with Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers. He began to weep with such loud sobs that the Egyptians outside could hear him.

    And Joseph said to his brothers: ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond.

    Joseph said to his brothers, ‘please come close to me’. When they approached him, he said, “I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.

    “Now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourself for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that G-d sent me ahead of you… G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance.”


    There is something amiss here. Joseph reveals his identity, saying, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond, the Torah says. Hence, we read: “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘please come close to me’. When they approached him, he said, “I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.”

    Ostensibly, he is trying to make them feel more comfortable and calm them down. Yet his words to them after they are horrified seem to have the opposite effect: “I am Joseph your brother – the one you sold into Egypt.” He now makes it clear that they are the ones who committed this heinous crime. Why would he do this at this point when he’s attempting to relax them?

    Besides, he already said to them, “I am Joseph.” Why the need to repeat it: “I am Joseph your brother – the one whom you sold into Egypt.”

    What is more, did he think that they forgot that he sold them into Egypt? Did they have another brother Joseph?! And even if he felt compelled to share this piece of evidence to prove that he was indeed Joseph, for no one else would know the story, why didn’t he say this the first time around when he revealed his identity to them?


    It was the second Rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Altar (1847-1905), known as the Sefas Emes, who presented a marvelous explanation.

    When Joseph revealed his identity, the brothers realized that all this time they were only seeing the external Joseph, not the true one. They thought they were interacting with the gentile Prime Minister of Egypt when in reality he was their brother! Suddenly they realized that their vantage point of reality was external. They were completely deceived by their eyes.

    This opened them up to the painful truth: They never knew their brother. Even when they saw him, they never really knew him.

    “Joseph recognized his brothers but they did recognize him,” the Torah states. The Alter Rebbe explains it thus: Joseph easily identified the holiness within his brothers. After all, they lived most of their lives isolated as spiritual shepherds involved in prayer, meditation, and study. Yet these very brothers lacked the ability to discern the moral richness etched in the depth of Joseph’s heart. Even when Joseph was living with them in Israel, they saw him as an outsider, as a danger to the integrity of the family of Israel. Certainly, when they encountered him in the form of an Egyptian leader, they failed to observe beyond the mask of a savvy politician the heart of a soul on fire.

    But when Joseph declared “I am Joseph” it was not merely a revelation of who he was, but also of what he was. For the first time in their lives, Joseph allowed his brothers to see who he really was on the inside. For the first time in their entire lives, Joseph’s brothers saw the greatest holiness in the world emerging from the face of an Egyptian vizier.

    “His brothers were so horrified that they could not respond,” relates the Torah. What perturbed the brothers was not only a sense of fear. What horrified them more than anything else was the inner remorse and brokenness, that they can cause so much pain to such a beautiful soul.

    Imagine you were married to the most beautiful, amazing woman in the world. But due to your own traumas, you mistreated her emotionally. After 22 years of therapy, your brain is cleansed, and you discover what you did to your innocent spouse. How do you feel about it? The pain is far deeper than the punishment and consequences that might come your way; it is more than guilt. The inner devastation you experience when you realize what you have done to such a good person is agonizing.

    That is what the brothers felt like at that moment—they discovered what a tragic error they have made. They were locked in their own orbit, deaf to the cries of their brother, oblivious to the horizons that extended beyond theirs, incapable of appreciating his true soul. The sense of a profound crime and an irreplaceable loss tormented them.

    It was at this moment when “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Please come close to me’.” Joseph wanted them to approach even closer and gaze deeper into the divine light coming forth from his countenance.

    “When they approached him,” relates the Torah, “He said, ‘I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt.” Joseph was not merely repeating what he had told them earlier (“I am Joseph”), nor was he informing them of a fact they were well aware of (“It is me whom you sold into Egypt”), rather, he was responding to their sense of endless pain, guilt and irrevocable loss.

    The words “I am Joseph your brother – it is me whom you sold into Egypt” in the original Hebrew can also be translated as “I am Joseph your brother – because you sold me into Egypt.” What Joseph was stating was something incredibly powerful. I am the person I am today only because you sold me into Egyptian slavery.


    (The Sefas Emes movingly interprets the Hebrew phrase used by Joseph “asher mechartem,” as “thank you for selling me.” “Our sages offered another take on the verse “on the first tablets that you broke (al haluchot harishonim asher shibarta),” namely, “congratulations for breaking the tablets,” yashar koach she’shibarta. So too, here, Joseph comforted his brothers with the words, “thatyou sold” (asher machartem oti), the deeper meaning of which was “congratulations for selling me (yashar koach asher machartem oti). For by doing so, I was sent to restore life, save the world from famine, and save the Jewish family from death.)

    The brothers were trying to harm him, they separated him from his beloved father and family, he endured much torment and pain. Yet at this profound moment of healing Joseph can look at his life and say to his brothers: “Now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourself for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that G-d sent me ahead of you… G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance.”

    The powerful trials and adversity he faced in the spiritual jungle of Egypt are precisely what unleashed the atomic glow the brothers were presently taking in. They have made him the person he was now. Their mistakes have allowed him to become an ambassador of light, hope, love, and healing to the world.

    Had Joseph spent the two decades voyaging with his father down the paved road of spiritual serenity, he would have certainly reached great intellectual and emotional heights. But it was only through his confrontation with the abyss that gave Joseph that singular majesty, which turned him into one of the greatest leaders of the time, responsible for saving much of humanity.

    Joseph was not indifferent to his pain. He cries more times than anyone else in the Tanach. He did not repress or deny his agony and torment. But as he gazed into the pain and sobbed, and as he surrendered his ego, expectations, and dreams of what life must look like, to G-d’s will, he discovered profound meaning and purpose in his journey, one that he could have never planned on his own.

    If only…

    Just as the brothers, many of us, too, live our lives thinking “If only…” If only my circumstances would have been different; if only I was born into a different type of family; if only I would have a better personality… If only I would have treated my spouse or children differently; if only I would not have been abused; if only I would not have this mental or emotional challenge; if only I would not have this insecurity…

    Yes, you may sob. It is painful. Sad. Tough. But then take a deep breath. Surrender your expectations. And allow yourself to entertain the idea that the individual journey of your life, in all of its ups and downs, is what will ultimately allow you to discover your unique mission in this world and impart your singular light to the cosmos. Can you discover deep in your heart that the mistakes you made are somehow part of a plan that will allow more light to come into the world?


    It was 1986. There was a young man suffering from homosexual tendencies. In utter despair, he penned a heart-wrenching letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe responded with a three-page correspondence. One point startled me.

    The Rebbe told this boy, that he does not know why he needed to endure this profound challenge, it was surely one of the mysteries of Divine providence. But then he added this: Sometimes, a person possesses an incredible inner light that can change the world. There is no way for this person to discover that secret power within themselves and call it his own, without being compelled to overcome a major life-challenge.

    Some would look at this young man and sadly feel disdain; many more, hopefully, would feel empathy. But it was the Rebbe, the teacher of oneness, who saw his crisis as an opportunity. There was no tragedy here; the dark challenge was a catalyst for this person to touch his own infinity. He was not a victim of an unfortunate condition; he was a Divine ambassador sent to places most people are not sent to because his potential was of a different magnitude.

    This does not ease the pain or minimize the difficulty. But it allows me to remain present in my life, look at my story in honesty, and grow from my past and my experiences in extraordinary ways.

    I can’t always figure out how it will work out. That’s fine. But I must surrender my expectations of what life is supposed to look like; I need to open myself up, with profound humility, to G-d’s plan for me and my loved ones.


    One year ago, on January 1, 2020, I attended a gathering of 90,000 fellow Jews, at MetLife Stadium, in New Jersey. They all united to celebrate the completion of a seven-year cycle of studying the 2,711 pages of the Talmud, known as Daf Yomi.

    At the mass event, I noticed Jews, men and women, of all ages. But my heart swelled with tears and pride as I noticed one Jew, close to 100, an Auschwitz survivor, who attended the celebration together with four generations of decedents. I noticed some other twenty Holocaust survivors dancing together in MetLife.

    The chairman of the event, Mr. Sol Werdiger, shared with me an incredible story. Sol is the Founder & CEO of Outerstuff, the leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of children’s sports apparel for the major sports leagues in North America. Sol is a well-known activist and philanthropist in New York, who also serves as chairman of Agudath Israel of America and of the Siyum Hashas.

    “I never knew why G-d put me into this type of business, when I have no interest in sports, and can barely name ten players of the major sports leagues.

    “But nine years ago, we needed a location to house 90,000 Jews who study Talmud over seven years. And that is when the idea popped into my mind: Let’s do it at MetLife.

    “MetLife Stadium is an American sports stadium located at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, 8 miles west of New York City. It is the home stadium of two National Football League (NFL) franchises, the New York Giants and the New York Jets, as well as the New York Guardians of the XFL. At an approximate cost of $1.6 billion, it was the most expensive stadium ever built at the time that it opened, in 2010.

    “My friends thought I was crazy, but I called the owners of Metlife, some of them nice Jewish boys (Mr. Tisch and Mr. Johnson), and they agreed to give it to us for the Siyum Hashas.

    “We came to a final meeting, where we would sign the contract and finalize the deal. At the meeting, a man stood up and said he wants to say a few words. He introduced himself as the man who designed and built the stadium for Mr. Tisch and Johnson, a project which cost them 1.6 billion dollars.

    This is what he said at the meeting:

    “It took me ten years to design and built MetLife. As I got older, I began to become more introspective. And I started to ask myself what the purpose of my life was, what did I achieve in all my years. A sense of emptiness came over me. I dedicated ten full years to build a stadium, for what? What was its ultimate meaning? Is this the reason my soul came down to this world? Was this worth ten years of my life and 1.6 billion dollars?

    “For those ten years, I did not do much more. And I was feeling remorse. I am a Jew, and my soul was yearning for real meaning….

    “But when I hear today that my stadium will be used to house 90,000 Jews, praying and learning Torah together, dancing, and celebrating their Judaism, uniting together against anti-Semitism and bigotry, committing themselves to bring the light of Torah into the world—I say: Ah, now I know why I spent ten years and 1.6 billion building this gigantic stadium!”

    We need to let go of the notion that life must look a certain way. G-d’s plans are mysterious, and every step in our arduous journeys is there to help each of us cast our unique infinite light on the world.