Parshas Vayigash: The power of Unter-nemen

כי עבדך ערב את הנער מעם אבי לאמר אם לא אביאנו אליך וחטאתי לאבי כל הימים- For your servant gauranteed for the lad, to my father, saying, If I do not bring him to you, I will have sinned to my father for all time.

Rashi comments: ואם תאמר, למה אני נכנס לתגר יותר משאר אחי? הם כלם מבחוץ ואני נתקשרתי בקשר חזק להיות מנדה בב' עולמות- Should you ask why I enter into the contest (champion his cause) more strongly than my other brothers — then I tell you: I have more to lose; they all stand outside the matter (are less concerned with it than I am), but I have placed myself under a firm bond to be an outcast in both worlds.

Although Yehuda was fourth in the family, he was still the spokesman in their discussions with Yosef. The Gaon M’Vilna famously noted that the ta’amei hamikra (trop) on the first possuk of our Parsha alludes to this:

 וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּ֘אמֶר֮ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ – The sequence of the trop  is Kadma V’azla Revi’i Zarka Munach Segol. This can be understood as follows: Kadma V’azla Revi’i- why is it that the fourth one (Yehuda) stepped forward to speak with Yosef regarding Binyomin? Shouldn’t it have been Reuven, the oldest? However, we find in Parshas Mikeitz that Yehuda guaranteed Binyomin’s return by placing his portion of the World to Come at stake. Therefore, Yehuda, the fourth, now stepped forward because of what he had on the line. Zarka Munach Segol- he did not want to throw away his chance of residing in the World to Come with the Am Segulah.

Chazal tell us that when Yehuda accepted upon himself full responsibility for Binyomin’s return, this even included if an accident beyond his control would occur. The Sochatchover z”l (Avnei Nezer) wonders what the point of this was as it would be of no benefit at all to Yaakov. Furthermore, how can Yehuda even guarantee something that is beyond his control?

He answers that in truth, יש באדם כוחות נעלמים שהוא עצמו אינו מודע להם – every person has a wealth of untapped, hidden talent and abilities that are just lying there, dormant. If these would only be accessed, a person would be able to accomplish so much more. If Yehuda would have only accepted upon himself the standard responsibility of Binyomin, the result would have been that Yehuda would have only pushed himself as much as he felt he was able to. But now that he accepted full responsibility, a much greater ability was unlocked.

I heard a shmuz from Rav Leib Bakst z”l on Parshas Vayakhel- Pekudai explaining the idea of nesiyus halev. He described it by explaining this phenomenon of accessing the greater untapped ability. The Rosh Yeshiva referred to it as the power of unter-nemen. (Rav Yerucham Levovitz in Daas Torah discussed this as well and called it by the Hebrew term כח של יוזמה.) When one accepts upon themselves responsibility of something, they suddenly have the ability to accomplish so much more.

He would often ask people to do certain things and they would say, “I will do it, but I don’t want to be in charge,” or “yes, but it is not my responsibility”. He reminisced walking into the office of General Motors in Detroit. There was a man in a suit sitting down, smoking a cigar, with his legs on the desk. In the next room over, there were people shlepping steel and all different auto parts. They were clearly working a lot harder. And yet, who had the higher salary? It was without a doubt the man in the suit because he was the manager. As a manager, he has accepted the achrayus of the job, and for that, the payment is greater.

He recounted meeting someone that was offered to buy into a factory partnership for $200. But he turned it down because he was happy earning his $5 per week. Years later, he was earning $8 per week, but his friend that offered the deal was now a multi-millionaire. He felt that this was because the person was scared to commit to something greater. The Chofetz Chayim, Rav Chaim Brisker and all of the great gedolim only became who they were because they accepted responsibilities, thereby propelling them to greatness. The same goes for the wealthy people as well. There was a conscious decision of unter-nemen. This in turn would cause greater focus, leading to bigger accomplishments.

Returning to Yehuda, we can also now understand why Yehuda is fit to be king, because ultimately, all responsibility rests upon the king.

Good Shabbos, מרדכי אפפעל