Parshat Vayigash

Torah Reading for Week of December 25-31, 2011

“Hinei Mah-Tov”
By Judy Aronson, AJRCA Professor of Jewish Education


When we hear the strains of Hinei Mah-Tov (Ps. 133) we instinctively come together swaying or dancing.  It seems natural to picture ourselves as brothers and sisters with the desire to dwell together.  In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, it is painful to revisit the anguish and weeping that begins after Judah drew near, moved closer to, went up to, or approached the majestic Joseph, not knowing yet that they are brothers.

Judah’s oration of sixteen p’sukim may be the longest in Torah.  He speaks about his family’s tragic history and what brought him to this moment of reflection and deep regret. Judah refers to Israel as “father” fourteen times.

Even though Jacob/Israel played favorites, ultimately he is our patriarch and the very existence of the people of Israel depends on his contract with G-d.  At Mount Moriah with the call “Abraham, Abraham,” Jacob’s father Isaac is saved.  Later in this Parshah when Israel is in Beer-Sheba G-d says “Jacob, Jacob,” greeting him like an old friend to reassure him that going down to Egypt is part of a greater plan.

Recently I spent a week Sarasota with my husband and his brother.  Close in age, they wonder how they could be so completely different in life style and values.  One a grandfather, the other a bachelor.  One frugal, the other a profligate collector of precious objects.  What they share in common is a sense of loyalty even though they cannot sit in a car together without arguing, a lot.

For my part, I sat in the back seat.  I had just received a Kindle for my birthday and loaded it with the Tanakh so that I could study Vayigash.  I found it a very intimate way of reading text.  I wondered if it was like moving from a Torah Scroll to a Codex around 400 CE. Individual lines I might have skipped jumped off the little screen raising new questions in my mind.  What does it mean for brothers to be “close”?  How important is the relationship?

Joseph had a lot of brothers.  My husband has only one.  Should he, like Judah, assume “leadership” at touchy moments and aim for shalom bayit?

On the plane home, I watched “The Wizard of Oz.”  At the end of the movie, the Tin Man realizes he has a heart when he says that separating from Dorothy will “break it.” Joseph’s heart is “broken” through his forgiveness of Judah and his brothers.  Like the Tin man he weeps, the tears healing his wounded sense of alienation from his family. Benjamin joins in his weeping.

But Joseph is no fool. When he sends his brothers back to Canaan he admonishes them saying “Do not be quarrelsome on the way.”  Rashi suggests this means that the brothers should refrain from blaming each other for the sale of Joseph and for defaming him so as to make him hateful to them. “Not bad advice in light of past experiences.”  (JPS Study Bible)  To travel together in peace has its challenges.

“Rabbi Yehudah said: “Happy are the righteous whose convergence brings peace to the world, for they know how to actualize union and they converge to expand peace in the world.  Look, until Joseph and Judah approached one another, there was no peace; as soon as they drew near as one, they expanded peace in the world and joy increased above and below!” (Zohar: Matt)

So may this be in my family, in your family, in the family of Israel, and the family of nations.

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