Insight on the Weekly Torah Reading: V'yigash

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The Stuff of Survival

By Michael Chessen

At the outset of our reading of V'yigash, Judah takes center stage as spokesman for all of his now fully penitent brothers. His eloquent plea before the man who they still believe to only be the hostile Egyptian viceroy sublimely expresses the sincerity of all ten brothers' "return" from the depths of evil intent to the height of brotherly love. Although Joseph's dramatic revelation of his true identity ultimately shows his brothers that they had never actually been in the physical danger in which they had feared they had, Judah's statement nevertheless retains its essential value in enabling Joseph to comfort his brothers and tell them not to be upset with themselves for having sold him into slavery because "God sent me before you to preserve life."(Genesis 45:5).

Rabbi J. H. Hertz sees Judah's performance in the opening section of V'yigash as forming the basis for the verse in Jacob's blessing in next week's reading of V'yechi: "Judah your brothers will thank you (yoducha)." (Gen. 49:8)

Although Joseph's brothers seem to have fulfilled the three conditions which Maimonides sites as constituting complete repentance, namely, confession, regret and resisting repeating the same sin in a similar circumstance, Joseph still at least minimally rebukes them by juxtaposing the revelation of his identity with the question "is my father still alive?"(Gen. 45:3). This rebuke, which would properly be read as asking the brothers if their father was indeed still alive after all that they had put him through, was needed in order to abide by the Torah's directive that one need necessarily air any possible grievances against one's fellow in order to clear the way for fully fulfilling the precept to "love one's fellow as one's self". This being disposed of, however, upon sending his brothers on their way to bring Jacob and family down to Egypt, Joseph implores them to "avoid irritation on the way"(Gen. 45:24). Rather than engaging in needless finger-pointing concerning the past, the brothers need to proceed forward in helping carry out God's will with the joy one needs to feel in performing any positive commandment from the Torah.

Upon learning that his beloved Joseph is yet alive and rules over the land of Egypt, Jacob feels joy which perhaps has had no parallel in all that he has had to endure over the course of his many years. Whereas he had received the new name of "Israel" as an expression of his ability to spiritually overcome diversity, Rabbi S. R. Hirsch sees Jacob as likely experiencing a certain tempering of his newly found joy when God here still calls out to him not as Israel, but as Jacob, when God tells him not to fear going down to Egypt. Apparently, to survive the exile, or "galut", the Jewish people will still need some of the "bypassing" characteristics associated with the name "Jacob". However, Jacob's descendants who accompany him to Egypt are now for the first time called the "children of Israel". Inherent holiness will help sustain the Jewish people while they await their desired return to the Holy Land.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!

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