How many of you like surprises? I grew up in a house divided. My father is one of the most prepared people I’ve met in my life. Needless to say, he’s not always the biggest fan. One year, my father began a new post at work. My mother took it upon herself, with the help of a family friend, to orchestrate a massive surprise party. My father was shocked and happy but still care for surprises. My mother was more easy going and always appreciated a good surprise. A few years ago, again with the help of the same family friend, we pulled off a massive surprise party for her. She was elated, and had no idea of our ruse. I tend to find myself in the latter camp. Before I got married, a group of my closest friends from childhood came to New York and took me out to dinner and to an arcade a little bit before my wedding. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
When you’re part of a surprise, there’s an excitement, an exhilaration that you feel when the guest of honor so to speak enters and you can reveal your plot. You wait with bated breath, often times lamenting that the moment is not yet there. Usually, we associate surprises with happy occasions. A surprise birthday party, surprise engagement, surprise pregnancy announcement. But there are times when surprises are not seemingly too happy.
The drama at the beginning of Parshas Vayigash is tangible. Yehuda leads the charge, pleading the case of being kept in jail in Binyamin’s stead in order to pacify the Egyptian leader. His emotional petition tugged at the heartstrings of the powerful man they stood before. This was too much for Yosef. He could no longer keep his secret from his brothers. After sending everyone out of the room other than the band of brothers, he cries “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” The brothers could not speak, as they were so startled at this revelation. Surprise! I’m your brother Yosef that you haven’t seen for years! The brothers couldn’t muster up a word.
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explains that the brothers were astounded because at that very moment, everything that had occurred for the last twenty-two years finally made sense. Where was their brother whom they had sold into slavery? Who was this viceroy of Egypt who was dealing with them so harshly? Why was the money they spent on food for their families returned to them? Why was this leader so adamant that Binyamin had to to be brought to him? Why did he place the goblet in the sack prepared for him? By Yosef saying two words, Ani Yosef, everything had become crystal clear. The holes in the plot had finally made sense, with an unbelievable twist that no one saw coming. Their brother who they sold into slavery was now a significant player in the house of Paro. He dealt with them harshly because he wanted to see if they had really changed, and would not repeat their previous mistakes, Would the brothers abandon Binyamin after the threat of being in jail or would they stand by him in his time of need? They passed the test, yet were too transfixed to say anything. Yosef calls them closer and repeats his words, and they embrace.
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz explains that the coming of Mashiach will happen in a similar fashion. Hashem will send His emissary who will proclaim “I am Mashiach,” and we will stand there awestruck. Everything will now become clear to us. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are we continuously being attacked by our enemies? What is the meaning of our pain and suffering? When these things happen, we comfort ourselves by saying it’s a process, we’re not privy to the grand plan. When we will finally be able to see the bigger picture, all will be clear.
There are Messianic roots in the Haftorah for Parshas Vayigash as well. It’s written in Yechezkel “And My servant David shall be king over them, and one shepherd shall be for them all, and they shall walk in My ordinances and observe My statutes and perform them.” Unifying the Jewish people under one banner, explains Rav Soloveitchik, is the mission of the Messiah. The terminology here is unique and poignant. One shepherd shall be for them all. During the Yamim Noraim, Hashem is compared to a shepherd who examines their flock. There may be tens or hundreds or even thousands of sheep that are in their care, but the shepherd knows the ins and outs of all of them. They knows which sheep needs more food, and which eats less, which one will more likely run away and have to be chased after so they can rejoin the masses.
That’s exactly how Hashem knows his people, and that’s exactly how Mashiach will lead the Jewish people.