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Archive for December, 2011

Parshat VaYigash – What’s up with Joseph

Posted by rabbiart on December 27, 2011

Is Joseph in touch with his feelings? Was he Pharoah’s iron hammer with a soft chewy center? In last week’s parshah he meets and recognizes his brothers, who have no idea who he is. He treats them harshly, but when he takes his brother Simon as a hostage to be held, he turns away and weeps When the brothers return to Joseph with Benjamin, he runs from the chamber in haste so that he may weep again in private. In these two instances, there is no mention in the Torah of anyone overhearing Joseph crying.

Finally, Joseph reveals himself to the brothers, and now he is so overcome with emotion that he is unable to move. He sends everyone – except his brothers – out of the chamber, and reveals himself to them. His weeping is heard and becomes known to all of Pharoah’s household.

Commentators ancient and modern have had a field day analyzing this story and finding in it a tale of Joseph’s maturation as an adult and a theologian.  He is magnanimous, forgiving his brothers. He is spiritual or religiously aware, crediting HaShem with arranging the entire trajectory of his life in order to prepare the ground for his extended family to find food and safety – but later slavery – in Egypt.

But the text also tells us a story of profound loneliness and rejection. With the Torah’s customary carefulness in choice and use of wording, the text mirrors Judah’s approach with Joseph’s reaction.  When Judah approaches Joseph to make his final plea the text says וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה – Judah came close to Joseph.  When Joseph finally breaks down and responds, the text quotes him to say  גְּשׁוּ-נָא אֵלַי, וַיִּגָּשׁוּ – come close to me, and they came close.  It’s as simple as brothers seeking brothers.

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VaYigash – Judah approaches and Joseph responds

Posted by rabbiart on December 25, 2011

Our Parshah comes back from commercial, as it were, with Judah once again approaching Pharoah’s #1 man in all of Egypt. To Judah, it is as if he were speaking directly to Pharoah. Judah must in this moment be terrified, not only for his youngest brother, but for all the brothers, and for himself. Before we conclude our reading, Judah will offer himself up as a hostage in order to redeem the captivity of his brother Shimon, and to protect his brother Benjamin.How does Judah approach his as of yet unrecognized brother? The Midrash offer several interpretations. R. Yehudah, perhaps going with the pshat of the verse, says that Judah expects an argument. R. Yehuda reads the opening of our parshah as a debate that Judah wins by convincing Pharoah’s governor that he (Joseph) has acted unjustly. He quotes Shmuel 2,10:13, where Joab and his army approach the Arameans prepared for battle.R. Nehemiah reads Judah’s approach to be for a reconciliation. He cites a story in Joshuah 14:6ff where Caleb approaches Joshua to defend a request that Hebron be part of his inheritance. Caleb refers to his own experience of his “heart melting”. In return Joshua blesses Caleb and gives him Hebron.The Rabbis interpret Judah’s approach as tefilah. They rely on Elijah’s approach to HaShem In Kings 1, 18:36 where Elijah offers a prayer that he has done everything he has been commanded. At the end of his prayer, it is answered, and all the people fall on their faces when they see it, and proclaim YHVH is God, YHVH is God.” What is Judah’s state of mind? He either does not remember, or chooses to misrepresent, the sequence of events as they transpired one parshah earlier. Joseph did not inquire of the brothers as Judah here describes it; he only accused them of being spies. It was their group answer that gave Joseph the apparent pretext for imprisoning Simon and sending the brothers back to fetch Benjamin.Ultimately, Judah tries everything, first arguing as if it were Joseph’s fault for the entire situation. Then he tells a sob story about how his father will perish if the brothers return home without Benjamin. Finally he makes this request; that Joseph take him (Judah) in exchange for Benjamin.In the opening of the 2nd traditional aliyah, Joseph is unable to contain his emotions, and weeps for the third time, this time openly. Perhaps all the aspects of Judah’s approach have combined to break through to Joseph. Although the facts of the earlier episode are not as Judah described them, there is an underlying truth because Joseph knew darn well who the brothers were, and surely he manipulated them into their “confession” about the brother at home and the brother who was lost. Joseph must be lonely and miss his father who favored him, so the references to his father’s pain must prepare him for Judah’s final tactic.When Judah offers himself up in exchange for Benjamin Joseph must see that finally Judah has learned to “man up” and not only take responsibility for his actions, but to behave in a proactive and positive way to protect his youngest brother, who now hold the position of favorite child that once belonged to Joseph.

Joseph cries out –  אֲנִי יוֹסֵף, הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי – I am Joseph, does my father still live?  All the emotions have been laid  bare, and now a true reconciliation among brothers can begin.

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