Sign In Forgot Password

Parashat Vayigash

December 10, 2021
6 Tevet 5782
Parashat Vayigash
Genesis 44:18 - 47:27

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, begins with Joseph and his brothers coming together. Joseph reveals himself to them after Judah offers himself as a hostage instead of their younger Benjamin. So much has occurred prior to this pivotal moment.

Here they are: twelve brothers spanning quite an age range, from four different mothers, together for the first time in twenty years. They are a family, but one that desperately needs to be healed. The only one who appears innocent of any missteps or wrongdoing at this moment is Benjamin, the youngest, who is Joseph’s full brother.

Any good storyteller knows that delving into the individual reactions of each of the brothers would be more than the listener or reader could process, so instead we are given Joseph and Judah.

Judah's telling Joseph his version of Joseph’s own story and the grief that it precipitated in their father, is what causes Joseph to reveal himself. It is a complex reunion with the brothers unsure of what to make of Joseph’s words telling them that all of this was meant to be, so that he would be in a position to help his family when help was needed. 

Vayigash means “and he drew near” or “he came closer”. Judah approaches Joseph and takes on the role of leadership from among the brothers. The language makes me think of how one approaches an animal that one is unfamiliar with. Judah has no idea how Joseph will respond to his overtures, but he has to make them. He has to step forward, whatever the consequences may be. Judah has to do what is right this time around, having watched his father suffer all these many years believing that Joseph is dead. Judah was the one who originally made the suggestion to sell their brother to a caravan. He cannot let Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother, be lost to their father as well.

Judah has changed over the years; he has grown into someone who has the capacity to admit to his own mistakes and take responsibility. This change is highlighted in the story of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. (Genesis 38:1-30).

When we put Judah’s capacity for change next to that of Joseph, we have two different models of change. Joseph begins as a callow spoiled youth and becomes a man of faith even as his life’s journey is a series of ups and downs (at this moment, up). Joseph constantly credits God for his survival and growth. Interestingly, this deep relationship with the Divine never appears as a conversation or dream like that of his ancestors.

Judah, on the other hand, does teshuvah. He turns himself around. Some of us are spiritual and some are not. However, we all have the capacity to grow and change and be our best selves. Judah is a true exemplar of that possibility. 

We can read his journey as a redemption story. When we are able to get past ourselves, as Judah did, we can see beyond ourselves to the suffering of others. In Judah’s case, he saw the suffering of his father. This ability to see beyond, to grow, to do teshuvah, is needed now more than ever. May we all be blessed with the ability to grow, change and become our best selves.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn


Sun, June 26 2022 27 Sivan 5782