A Time to be Soft and a Time to be Harsh

In Parshas Mikeitz (41:56) we are told that a great famine
fell upon the world. Yaakov saw that there was still food in Mitzrayim (42:1)
and sent there all his sons, excluding Binyamin, to bring back food to Yaakov
and his family in Eretz Yisroel.

When the brothers reached Mitzrayim, they met Yosef. We will
see in the following pesukim that although Yosef still had great love and
respect for his brothers, he nevertheless admonished them harshly for having
committed the sin of throwing him into the pit and then selling him to traders.

We can learn from here that a teacher or parent should act
tough when necessary, although he may have great feeling for the child; that
there is no contradiction between a tough and a gentle approach, just each
should come at the educationally right time.

In posuk 42:7, Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did
not recognize him. He took advantage of this situation to speak to them in a
harsh manner (Rashi in the name of Midrash Rabbah) and then suspected
them of spying out the land.

When one needs to give a strong warning, punishment or
admonishment, even if the receiver is as close as a brother, a parent and
certainly a principal or teacher, needs to completely remove all personal and
emotional concerns from his heart and give over his message in a clear,
beneficial manner, as though he has no interest in the person’s reaction; only
in the message being given over.

Yosef accuses his brothers of coming to Egypt as spies. The
brothers try and explain that they have no intention of harming the Egyptian
monarchy or people and have only come to take food back to Israel and to find
their brother, Yosef (Rashi). Nevertheless, Yosef does not relent and simply
repeats his contention that they have come as spies. This consistent, although
accusing tone, causes the brothers to reconsider the true intent of their
actions, until in 42:21 they remind themselves of their mistreatment of Yosef
and their refusal to listen to Ruvane’s advice to save him.

A teacher or parent need not enter into a debate with his
student/child as to whether he did right or wrong. A suspicion on the part of a
parent or teacher in itself has validity, for if the child had not previously
misbehaved the parent or teacher would not suspect him. The child should be left
to feel that he alone is responsible to clear his name.

In 42:16, we find that Yosef first decided to put all the
brothers in jail and send only one brother to bring back Binyamin. This plan
lasted three days. Afterwards, Yosef changed his mind. He now told his brothers
that only one brother need remain in custody, while the others were free to go
and bring back Binyamin.

We learn from here that a teacher may at first make one
determination and later change it when he takes a second look at the situation.
Also, a first reaction tends to be the strongest and a less immediate reaction
tends to be more balanced, achieving the same results without the same degree of
punishment. Yosef’s change to keep back only one brother teaches us that we need
not be ashamed of changing or lightening a punishment if we feel we can achieve
the same results with it. A teacher should punish when necessary, but not more
than is necessary.

Sometimes a teacher may show his class as though he is
punishing a particular student for an intended effect, while not really
punishing him at all. This we see here in 42:24, where Yosef put Shimon in jail
in front of his brothers and when they left, he freed him and fed him (Rashi).

Another important lesson can be learned from this incident
with Yosef and Shimon. On one hand, Yosef had to put Shimon in detention to show
he was serious about using him as ransom until Binyamin came to Mitzrayim. One
the other hand, once the brothers left and there was no longer a reason to keep
Shimon in jail, Yosef freed him and took care of his needs.

Even when a teacher or parent punishes a child, the child’s
personal needs do not wither away or become unimportant. And, if the teacher or
parent shows concern for the child’s personal needs even while punishing him,
the child is sure to regard his punishment as sensible and consider that his
parent/teacher is punishing him with his best interest in mind.

We see from the above posuk as well, that when Yosef heard
his brothers lamenting over what they had done to him, deciding that it was
wrong, he quickly left their company and found himself a room he could cry in
without them noticing.

There are two lessons to be learned here. One, a teacher has
to be an actor. His face and tongue must play the role of an educator, while his
heart feels the needs of each student. Two, the purpose of admonishment and
punishment is not to make the child suffer, but to encourage him to improve his
ways. Just as Yosef was affected by his brothers sincere request, so too a
teacher should react positively to the regret and apology of a student, as long
as it’s sincere.

In 43:11, when the famine became unbearable, Yaakov agreed to
send Binyamin to Mitzrayim. When Yosef saw Binyamin (43:29-30) he barely managed
to hold back his tears before he left the room and cried. Yosef pulled himself
together just in time.

If a teacher feels he needs a break to readjust himself to
the needs of the class, he should take one, even in the middle of a class, as
long as he asks the menahel to fill in for him. When he regains his composure
and again feels that he can maintain control of the class on his conditions, he
should return to his class.

In general, it is important for a teacher to remember, that
the students must always feel that the teacher is in full control of the class
and that the class is conducted according to the conditions of the teacher.

After the meal, Yosef gave gifts and food to all his brothers
and returned their money they used to purchase the food. He ordered that his
silver cup to be placed in Binyamin’s saddlebags as the last step in his plan
before he would reveal himself to his brothers. Yosef managed to keep his cool
and continue acting out the role of the wicked ruler for as long as he found it
essential.

The end of Parshas Mikeitz and the beginning of Parshas
Vayigash finds Yehuda pleading for the life of Binyamin and showing a readiness
to fight to the death for Binyamin (44:18 in Rashi).

Yosef at this point was so overwhelmed with Yehuda’s
sincerety and devotion for his brother, that he could no longer hold back his
burning feeling to once again rejoin his brothers (45:1). However, he did muster
up the strength to hold back his tears until all the Egyptians had left the room
before he revealed himself to his brothers. This, Rashi explains, was to avoid
them being unnecessarily embarrassed in front of them.

We learn from here an important lesson. Where on the one
hand, when it is educationally necessary, a teacher or parent is allowed to
embarrass a child, on the other hand he must make absolutely sure that no one
outside the educational environment is witness to this embarrassment. Yosef
showed full control on this point even at the height of his stiff treatment of
his brothers.

Why did Yosef choose this path of harassment until he brought
Yehuda to the point of readiness to give up his life to save Binyamin? We can
suggest that when he saw Yehuda’s willingness to sacrifice his life for his
brother, he felt that he, representing all the brothers, had done complete
teshuvah
for what they had done to Yosef. When this point was reached, there
was no longer any point in harsh talking as the objective had been reached.
Immediately after he revealed himself, as well, when he saw that his brothers
were embarrassed for what they had done, Yosef became overly brotherly.

In 45:5, Yosef tries to calm his brothers, telling them that
it was in G-d’s plan for him to come to Egypt in order to provide food for
Yaakov and his family and therefore they shouldn’t be upset. However, although
Yosef had always felt this, he only mentioned it after the brothers had fully
regretted their actions.

So too, a teacher or parent, although he may be aware of a
bigger plan, his first obligation is to help his students admit to their
mistakes and improve their ways.

Also, we see from here that the brothers’ embarrassment and
humbled state substituted their need for actual punishment. Why? For this is the
purpose of all punishment: to have the child regret his actions and realize that
he never should have done them in the first place. Embarrassment is a sure sign
that this stage had been reached.