Chagiga 3 - 10
The Paradox of a Passing
When Rabbi Elazar read this Torah passage he wept: "And Yosef said to his brothers, I am Yosef; does my father yet live? And his brothers could not answer him for they were terrified before him." (Bereishet 45:3)
If such is the reproof of flesh and blood, mused the sage, what shall be when we are faced with Hashems reproof?
Rabbi Elazars tears reflected his appreciation of mans futility to defend himself against the charges to be presented by Hashem in the hereafter. The proof of this futility is the embarrassed silence with which Yosefs brothers greeted the revelation of his identity, and the reproof which accompanied it.
But where was there reproof in Yosefs words? All he said was "I am Yosef; does my father still live?"
The answer may be found in a brilliant commentary of Beit Halevi on a midrash with a similar message. When Yosefs brothers, prior to his revelation, pleaded with the Egyptian potentate to have mercy and release Binyamin from captivity, they based their case on the anguish that his imprisonment would cause their aged father. Yosef showed them the hypocrisy in their plea by following his revelation of "I am Yosef" with the question "does my father yet live;" by this he meant to remind them of the anguish they caused their father Yaakov by selling his son Yosef into slavery. "Does my father yet live after all the pain you caused him?" asks Yosef, thus exposing the insincerity of their earlier expressions of concern for Yaakov.
The Hebrew word for reproof is "tochacha," whose root means "proof." The proof of guilt is showing the inconsistency of the defendants argument. If Yosef could silence his brothers with such a demonstration, says Rabbi Elazar, how shall we be able to defend ourselves when our Omniscient Creator reproves us and proves that all our excuses are absurd? The man who claims he did not give charity for lack of funds will be shown his expense account for luxuries. One who did not study Torah for an alleged lack of time will be shown how much time he spent on frivolous pursuits. The proof will be the reproof.
The 101st Time
"Then you shall return," says the Prophet Malachi in his vision of the hereafter, "and see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves Hashem and one who does not serve Him." (Malachi 3:18)
"Is this not redundant?" asked Ben Hei Hei (a sage who was a convert to Judaism and adopted as his name the letter which was added to the names of historys first converts, Avraham and Sarah). "After all, one who is righteous serves Hashem and one who is wicked does not!"
The last part of the passage, explained the Sage Hillel, which refers to one who serves and one who does not, deals only with the righteous. But even in that category there is a difference between one who studies his Torah subject 100 times and one who does so 101 times.
"For failing to study just one more time," wondered Ben Hei Hei, "he is called one who does not serve Hashem!"
To explain his point, Hillel drew upon a comparison to the fee charged by donkey drivers who transport goods for people. They charge a zuz for transporting a distance of ten parsah, but if you ask them to go eleven parsah they will charge the disproportionate amount of two zuz.
Maharsha explains that ten parsah is the distance normally covered in one day by a donkey driver walking behind his loaded animal, so that this is a labor to which he is accustomed. If someone wishes him to cover an extra parsah in that same amount of time, he is requiring a special effort for which the fee must be doubled. In similar fashion, one who studies Torah to what he deems the limit of his ability may be considered a righteous Jew, but only one who pushes himself beyond that imagined limit and puts in that 101st time is considered one who truly serves Hashem and deserving of a special reward.