This week's parsha
Vintage Wine or Split Peas
Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers. He now urged them to return to Canaan to bring the joyous tidings that "Joseph yet lives" to their aged father Jacob, and to bring Jacob back to Egypt with his entire family and household. The Torah further relates that Joseph sent along food and gifts for Jacob with his brothers: "And to his father he sent the following: ten donkeys carrying the choice [foods] of Egypt, and ten she-donkeys carrying grain, bread, and [other] food, for his father for the way."
There are two different interpretations quoted by the commenter Rashi as to the nature of these "choice foods." One explanation is that he sent "vintage wine, which greatly pleases the elderly," while the other maintains that Joseph sent split peas. There is not one shade of detail in the explanations of our Torah-commentators that is, G‑d forbid, trite or trivial or lacking significance. Here too, both of the interpretations quoted by Rashi reveal new insights of understanding of the narrative.
Split Peas: Joseph knew that his brothers' return to Canaan with the news that "Joseph lives" would cause his father not only joy but also great distress, for Jacob would then discover that the brothers -- his own sons -- had sold Joseph into slavery. Even if he would not discover this fact, Jacob would surely feel the pain of his long separation from his favorite son. Joseph tried to alleviate his father's distress by sending him one of the choicest foods of Egypt -- split peas -- indicating to Jacob that there are some things in the world that reach superlative levels of usefulness and worth through being split, divided and separated. Joseph hinted to his father that only through being separated from his whole family and sold into slavery in Egypt had he risen to greatness and was now able to sustain and support his family and save them from the famine.
Vintage Wine: Some time before Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, he had invited them to a banquet at his palace, and on that occasion, relates the Torah, "they drank [wine] ... together with him." Rashi comments, "From the day they sold him they had not drunk wine, nor had he (Joseph) drunk wine, but on that day they drank." Joseph realized that if he and his brothers had refrained from wine as a sign of distress, then Jacob, who constantly mourned for Joseph, had surely also refrained from wine for those twenty-two years. Accordingly, one can well imagine Jacob's pleasure on being offered wine to drink by Joseph himself. Furthermore, by sending old wine, Joseph subtly indicated to Jacob that all the years he was in Egypt he had never lost faith in G‑d that he would eventually be reunited with his father. Although he had not drunk wine, he had wine stored away -- for so long a duration that it became aged, vintage wine -- so that it would be ready to use when the joyous reunion would eventually take place.
Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for "Egypt," signifies straits, limitations. In an extended sense, Mitzrayim could refer to any confining experience. Even when the limitations imposed by one's physical environment and material preoccupation hinder his service of the Al-mighty, he must not despair, just as Joseph did not despair in Egypt. On the contrary, he must be strong and have absolute confidence that G‑d will bring him success in material matters in such a way that they will not disturb or hinder his Torah-study or Mitvot-observance.