Torah Reading for Week of December 5 – December 11, 2010
by Rabbi Ira Rosenfeld, ’08
Vayigash begins with high drama. The opening scene rivals the greatest soap opera moment. Judah approaches Joseph and delivers a passionate and moving plea to free Benjamin, offering himself instead. Finally, Joseph can no longer contain himself, and he can no longer hide his identity to his brothers. An interesting element of this scenario is that Joseph clears the room of all Egyptians before he breaks down and cries, and, finally reveals himself to his brothers.
The obvious question is: Why did Joseph clear the room before revealing himself? According to our number one go to commentator, Rashi, Joseph clears the room so as not to embarrass his brothers (45:1).
Now, it may seem like Joseph didn’t want to embarrass himself. Maybe he didn’t want anyone to see him break down and cry. However, as Iturei Torah (HaRav A. Y. Greenberg) points out, Joseph cries so loud that it echoes all over the palace (45:2). So, it doesn’t seem like Joseph was concerned for himself, but, rather, for his brothers. Not only does Joseph come to save the family by bringing them to Egypt to live as royalty, he, according to Rashi, Iturei Torah, and many others, also goes out of his way to be sure not to embarrass them.
For me, the story of Joseph’s life should be an inspiration to us all. Primarily, because, as far as I can imagine, he always kept a positive attitude. It seems to me that the story of Joseph would have ended when he was sold as a slave. However, he presented himself in a positive manner and came to become the overseer in the house (39:4, 5). Then, he is falsely accused of attempted seduction of his master’s wife, and he becomes a prisoner (39:20). Again, the story could have ended there, but Joseph became the kind of person that people wanted to be around, and the prison keeper made him a leader (39:22). This eventually brought Joseph to Pharaoh (41:14), who made him one of the most prominent figures of his time, and throughout history. After all this, Joseph finally gets the chance to take revenge on the brothers who had been ready to kill him. Instead, he not only saves them, and the entire family, but, according to so many commentators, he even makes sure to help his brothers save face and avoid embarrassment.
This message is a key lesson to all good people, and I think it is especially relevant for Jewish leaders. Given the state of Judaism today, and the high percentage of Jews who are unaffiliated and uninterested in getting involved, it behooves us to be like Joseph and remain positive. We must look for the positive spark of G-d in every one of our brothers and sisters, and to see what we can do to improve things and mend the brokenness. We must be very careful not to get drawn in to the blame game, or giving up on our fellow Jews. Instead, like Joseph, we must not look for retribution or payback from those we may feel have it coming.
If Joseph was able to forgive and protect his brothers, surely we can find a way to support and look positively on all people; especially those who have in any way, cast their lot with the Jewish people. Let us all protect, serve, and help to maintain the dignity of all people we encounter. Perhaps, like Joseph, we too will come to have influence with leaders and royalty that will lead to great things for our time. Just remain positive!!