THE HERITAGE OF THE RIGHTEOUS JOSEPH
It is written, “Joseph said to his brothers: ‘I am about to die, but G-d will surely visit you and bring you out of this land to the land that He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob’ ” (Bereshith 50:24). In the Midrash the Sages say, “As Joseph was about to leave this world, he summoned his sons and said to them: ‘I am leaving this world, and I want to share my entire fortune with you.’ At that point he took out seven selayim [coins] from his bosom.”
This is absolutely amazing, for the Gemara states: “Joseph hid three treasures in Egypt: One was revealed to Korach, one to Antoninus the son of Severus, and the third is stored up for the tzaddikim in the future” (Pesachim 119a). Therefore what reason did Joseph have to bequeath but seven selayim to his sons?
Hashem Grants Success to Those Who Fear Him
The Sages have taught, “At the time of a man’s passing from this world, neither silver, gold, precious stones, nor pearls accompany him, but only Torah [learning] and good deeds, as it is stated: ‘It will guide you when you walk, it will watch over you when you lie down, and it shall speak to you when you awake’ [Mishlei 6:22]. ‘It will guide you when you walk’ – in this world; ‘it will watch over you when you lie down’ – in the grave; ‘and it shall speak to you when you awake’ – in the World to Come” (Pirkei Avoth 6:9).
On the verse, “Joseph gathered up all the money” (Bereshith 47:14), our teacher the Ramban explains: “Scripture relates this and goes on to complete the subject in this entire section in order to demonstrate Joseph’s greatness in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge…. [It shows] that he was a faithful man because he brought all the money into Pharaoh’s house and did not accumulate for himself treasures of money and secret hiding places for wealth in the land of Egypt, nor did he send it to Canaan. Instead, he gave all the money to the king who trusted him, and he purchased land for him and even the bodies of the Egyptians. In doing so, he found favor among the people, for it is G-d Who causes those who fear Him to prosper.”
Consequently, why did Joseph not take anything from among all this wealth for himself or his children? It is because he knew that a person does not come into this world for money, but rather to study Torah and fulfill mitzvot. When he leaves this world, he takes none of the wealth that he accumulated in life. On the verse, “Neither has he power over the day of death” (Kohelet 8:8), the Sages teach: “A man cannot say to the Angel of Death, ‘Wait for me until I settle my accounts, and then I will come’ ” (Kohelet Rabba 8:11). This is why Joseph did not hide any of this money, but transferred it to Pharaoh and his kingdom. Joseph did all this because he wanted to teach his children the tremendous importance of not working to earn money, but rather to acquire mitzvot and good deeds, which we will bring with us in the World to Come.
We can now understand why Joseph bequeathed such a small amount as seven selayim to his sons: Seven corresponds to the seventy years of man’s life, and the selayim are a reminder not to forget that the fate of all men is to be buried under a sela (stone), taking nothing with them but mitzvot and good deeds. Before these, the sela cannot resist, as it is written: “Like a hammer that breaks the rock (sela) in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29). Even if a man were to possess all the silver and gold in the world, they would be unable to resist the stone or death, and once a person dies, his wealth will go to others.
He Did Not Grow Proud
Furthermore, Joseph did not grow proud despite being one of the ten men who ruled from one end of the world to the other. As the Sages say, “The third king was Joseph, who ruled from one end of the world to the other, as it is said: ‘All the earth came to Egypt to Joseph’ [Bereshith 41:57]. It is not written ‘came from Egypt’ but ‘came to Egypt,’ for they brought their tribute and their gifts to Joseph in order to purchase [grain]. For 40 years he was second to the king, and for 40 years he was king alone, as it is said: ‘A new king arose over Egypt’ [Shemot 1:8]” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 10). The Sages have also taught, “Joseph reigned from one end of the earth to the other, as it is written: ‘Joseph was the governor over the land; he was the one selling to all the peoples of the earth’ [Bereshith 42:6]” (Midrash Asseret Melachim).
Whatever the case, Joseph’s heart did not grow proud, nor did he feel superior to his brothers because he was a ruler. He knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, had sent him into this world in order to save Israel, as he himself said: “For G-d sent me ahead of you to be a provider” (Bereshith 45:5). He also said, “It was not you who sent me here, but G-d. He has made me father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt. Hurry, go up to my father and say to him: ‘So says your son Joseph: G-d has made me master of all Egypt’ ” (vv. 8-9). He was careful to say, “G-d has made me” in order to tell his brothers that it was for this reason that his soul descended into this world. He wanted them to know that he had not grown proud as a result of becoming a ruler, thereby fulfilling the words: “So that his heart does not feel superior to his brothers” (Devarim 17:20). After the death of their father Jacob, Joseph also told them: “Although you intended me harm, G-d intended it for good, in order to do as this day, to keep a numerous people alive” (Bereshith 50:20). Targum Yonatan translates this to mean that as long as Jacob was alive, his sons ate with him and sat before him according to age. Joseph sat at the head of them all, for that is what Jacob wanted. Now that their father was dead, and despite the fact that the brothers asked Joseph to sit at the head of the table, he did not accept. Instead, he did not eat with his brothers out of respect for them. They, however, believed that it was because he detested them. Joseph therefore told them, “Not so. I cannot take a seat at the head of the table, and I have no desire to show that I am greater than you. I was only made a ruler over you to keep a numerous people alive.”
Since royalty did not go to his head, he wanted to teach this to his sons. Furthermore, he kept none of the money that he had collected for Pharaoh. Instead he brought it all to Pharaoh in order to teach us that gold, silver, and precious stones do not accompany man when he leaves this world, but only Torah study and good deeds.