Parashat Miketz tells of the travails experienced by Yaakov’s sons after arriving in Egypt to purchase grain. Yosef, whom they did not recognize, was the Egyptian vizier, and when he saw his brothers, he immediately accused them of coming as spies. He imprisoned Shimon and instructed the rest of the brothers to return to Canaan and bring their youngest brother, Binyamin, with them back to Egypt. Yaakov initially refused to allow his sons to bring Binyamin with them back to Egypt, but he eventually relented. As he sent them off, he offered a brief prayer that God assist them: “Kel Sha-ddai shall grant you compassion before the man, that he send with you your other brother and Binyamin” (43:14).
A creative interpretation of this verse is suggested by Rav Shlomo Kluger, in his Imrei Shefer. He writes that while the expression “yitein lakhem rachamim” (“shall grant you mercy”) is normally understood to mean that God should have the vizier treat the brothers compassionately, it might also mean that God should help the brothers themselves be merciful. For example, the Torah in Sefer Devarim (13:18) promises that in reward for compliance with the commands regarding the ir ha-nidachat (city whose townspeople all worshipped idols), “ve-natan lekha rachamim” – “He [God] shall grant you compassion.” Some commentators understood this as a promise that God would help the people develop a merciful character in reward for fulfilling His commands. Likewise, Rav Kluger suggests that Yaakov was blessing his sons that they themselves should develop within themselves the quality of mercy and compassion “before the man” – in advance of their meeting with Yosef in Egypt. In the merit of their being merciful and compassionate in their dealings with other people, they would be worthy of being treated compassionately by the suspicious Egyptian vizier.
While it is difficult to accept this reading as the actual interpretation of Yaakov’s prayer, Rav Shlomo Kluger here conveys the important message that we cannot seek other people’s compassion without working to engender this quality within ourselves. Our desire to earn the favor and goodwill of the people around us should motivate us to treat others with sensitivity and mercy. We often naturally tend to complain about the way we are treated without scrutinizing our own conduct and working to ensure we treat others properly. Rav Shlomo Kluger’s creative insight reminds us to pay at least as much attention to the way we treat other people as we do to the way we are treated by others.