Torah Weekly - Parshat Vayigash

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Parshat Vayigash

For the week ending 11 Tevet 5761 / 5 & 6 January 2001

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    With the discovery of the goblet in Binyamin's sack, the brothers are confused. Yehuda alone steps forward and eloquently but firmly petitions Yosef for Binyamin's release, offering himself instead. As a result of this act of total selflessness, Yosef finally has irrefutable proof that his brothers are different people from the ones who cast him into the pit, and so he now reveals to them that he is none other than their brother. The brothers shrink from him in shame, but Yosef consoles them, telling them that everything has been part of Hashem's plan. He sends them back to their father Yaakov with a message to come and reside in the land of Goshen. At first, Yaakov cannot accept the news, but when he recognizes hidden signs in the message which positively identify the sender as his son Yosef, his spirit is revived. Yaakov together with all his family and possessions sets out for Goshen. Hashem communicates with Yaakov in a vision at night. He tells him not to fear going down to Egypt and its negative spiritual consequences, because it is there that Hashem will establish the Children of Israel as a great nation even though they will be dwelling in a land steeped in immorality and corruption. The Torah lists Yaakov's offspring and hints to the birth of Yocheved, who will be the mother of Moshe Rabbeinu. Seventy souls in total descend into Egypt, where Yosef is reunited with his father after 22 years of separation. He embraces his father and weeps, overflowing with joy. Yosef secures the settlement of his family in Goshen. Yosef takes his father Yaakov and five of the least threatening of his brothers to be presented to Pharaoh, and Yaakov blesses Pharaoh. Yosef instructs that in return for grain, all the people of Egypt must give everything to Pharaoh, including themselves as his slaves. Yosef then redistributes the population, except for the Egyptian priests who are directly supported by a stipend from Pharaoh. The Children of Israel become settled, and their numbers multiply greatly.




    "And Yehuda approached..." 44:18

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are deep divisions in the Jewish world. The State of Israel, too, is torn, and has always been torn, by division. As much as we are threatened by an enemy from without, so we are threatened by dissension and baseless hatred -- the enemy from within.

    Eventually, all those who have not categorically excluded themselves from their Jewish identity will find themselves united, and we will fulfill our destiny as "one nation in the world" -- the earthly reflection of G-d's Oneness above.

    Uncannily, both this week's Torah portion and the haftara predict our present situation:

    In the haftara, the prophet's eye sees the Jewish People still divided into the two antagonistic kingdoms of Yehuda and Ephraim.

    The historical stamp of the Ephraim Jews is religious nihilism -- enmity towards every specifically Jewish point of view -- and indiscriminate approbation of every non-Jewish religious point of view.

    On the other hand, the Yehuda Jews cannot escape the reproach that they pick out those mitzvot they want to keep, and those that they do keep, they keep more or less mechanically.

    When these two shattered halves of the Jewish People are again united, it will not be a sad compromise with each side making superficial concessions.

    Rather, G-d promises, through the words of His prophet, that both of them will be refined and purified and eventually the Jewish People will be united when these "two wooden slabs" become "one in My hand." (Yechezkel 37:19)

    The source for this eventual re-unification is in this week's Torah portion where there is another meeting of two worlds. Yehuda and Yosef. The world of revelation and the world of concealment. Yehuda represents the revealed majesty of Israel -- the royal line of King David -- apparent and clear for all to see.

    Yosef is the hidden majesty of Israel. Yosef recognizes his brothers, but they do not recognize him. He is the hidden spark of Israel -- the pintele yid -- which is hidden, burning away in exile, throughout all the "Egypts" of history. Yosef is the Jewish spark that never goes out. The eternal flame. From the outside, Yosef looks like a gentile ruler of a gentile nation, but inside he is every bit a Jew. So it is with every Jew: However far he may stray from his roots, inside burns the spark of his Jewishness, even if he never learned alef beit. He is bound to his inescapable holiness even when he is dragged through the spiritual sewers of a hostile world.

    "And Yehuda approached..."

    Yehuda approaching Yosef. Revealed majesty meeting concealed majesty.

    Yosef. Like the deep waters of a well, hidden, sealed over by a great stone. Sealed by the constrictions of a physical world and all its cares.

    Yehuda. Like a bucket reaching down into the depths to draw up from him the pure still waters. To reveal Yosef to himself.

    "And Yehuda approached..." The connection of two worlds. A foreshadowing of the ultimate redemption. Yosef crying as he is re-united with his brothers.

    When we cry for Israel, when we cry for all our brothers and sisters who are still in "Egypt," when we cry for all the hate and the violence, we should remember that just as Yosef was revealed to his brothers in tears, so too the ultimate redemption comes in tears. Then, the son of King David, the scion of Yehuda, will gather us from the four corners of the earth, and he will rule in revelation, in majesty with head held high.

    • Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, L'Torah Ul'Moadim
    • Rabbi Mendel Hirsch


    Yechezkel 37:15-28



    One of the ways that a prophecy becomes irreversible is if it is reinforced by a symbolic action. In this week's haftara, the Prophet Yechezkel foretells that in the time of the final redemption the two halves of the Jewish people, symbolized by Yehuda and Yosef, will be brought together like two blocks of wood. Hashem tells Yechezkel "Join them together [so that they] look like one. They shall be one in your hands." (37:17)

    Even though nothing could be more separate than two blocks of wood, eventually these two blocks will become one. And even though only Hashem can perform the miracle of making one block out of two, for us to deserve that Hashem will accelerate the redemption, we must "look like one;" i.e., the Jewish People must be united and free from malice and baseless hatred. For although the redemption is irreversible and inevitable, it is in our hands to delay it or to make it happen today.

    Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
    General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    Production Design: Michael Treblow

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