Vayigash 5778

Inner power (introduced in last week’s essay) is not a weak form of power; it is not a substitute for the willingness to fight. Inner power lies in not having to resort to a fight because the energy you project is powerful enough, without the use of force, to persuade others of the rightness of a course of action.

The players in the struggle for power over the fate of Binyamin, youngest brother of the clan of Israelites, are their leader Yehudah and the Viceroy of Egypt who, unbeknownst to Yehudah, is his brother Yoseif. Yehudah, determined to recover Binyamin at any cost, draws up to the Viceroy and delivers one of the most persuasive speeches in recorded history. The Hebrew word for “draws up,” vayigash (also the title of the Parsha) has three dimensions of meaning, each a dimension of inner power. The Midrash[1] unpacks the three dimensions of this word’s meaning.

ר, אלעזר פשט להון: אם למלחמה, אני בא; אם לפיוס, אני בא; אם  לתפילה, אני בא – בר”ר, צג,ו

 

Rabbi Elazar explained to them that his intention was to make it clear that if a battle is needed, he is ready. If appeasement is what is called for, he is ready to appease and if it requires prayer to God for a miracle, he is ready for this too.

The strength and readiness to go to battle if necessary, is the first dimension of inner power. The second dimension is the humility to appease, and the third is refinement of character allowing one to appeal for, and expect Divine support. Strength without humility is bullying; humility without strength is weakness. Strength and humility without character is shallow. When strength, humility and character are bundled together the resulting power of an individual is unconquerable[2].

Without Yehudah having to articulate his readiness to fight, or draw attention to his humility and character, Yoseif could experience them in the way Yehudah’s bearing and stance exuded the energy of all three dimensions. This is what made him so compelling.

Armed with this inner power Yehudah’s objective is not to overwhelm Yoseif, but to use his inner power to captivate the depths of Yoseif’s heart. The Midrash[3] provides a beautiful metaphor for Yehudah’s strategy, based on the verse in Mishlei (Proverbs 20:5) “A wise person’s insights are like deep waters; only an intelligent person can draw them out[4]:”

ויגש אליו יהודה וגו’ כתיב (שם כ) מים עמוקים עצה בלב איש וגו’ לבאר עמוקה מלאה צונן והיו מימיה צוננין ויפין ולא היתה בריה יכולה לשתות הימנה בא אחד וקשר חבל בחבל ונימה בנימה משיחה במשיחה ודלה הימנה ושתה התחילו הכל דולין הימנה ושותין כך לא זז יהודה משיב ליוסף דבר על דבר עד שעמד על לבו

 

Like a deep well of sweet, cool water, that no one could reach. One person tied pieces of rope together, and then he tied strings and then threads and drew water from the well and drank. Many others then were able to drink as well. So Yehudah would not deviate from conversation with Yoseif until he reached his inner heart.

Yehudah wants to get beyond the man’s superficial image and communicate with Yoseif’s deep essence; his soul. As he tells his story to the man he assumes to be the Viceroy of Egypt he watches for the chinks in the man’s inscrutable expression so that he can uncover his innermost feelings and expose his authenticity. He sees the man’s Achilles’ heel when he mentions the elderly father and youngest brother and the bond between them, and he goes for the jugular.  Continuing to describe the father’s devastation if the young son is not returned to him, Yehudah pleads for Binyamin’s safety. When Yehudah offers his own life in return for Binyamin, Yoseif finally breaks down and reveals himself[5]. Yehudah overpowers the second most powerful man in Egypt not with force but with the force of his righteous character, his humility and his readiness to fight for what he believes in[6]. But the battle is not over.

After being overcome with emotion, Yosief needs to recover the upper hand. After all, his dream showed his brothers as subservient to him, not the other way around. He too has inner power – far more important to him than the power of his political position – and he knows how to use it. He rebukes them so forcefully that they are unable to answer him[7], even though his rebuke hardly entails a word of harsh talk. The Hebrew word for rebuke, תוכחה, is the same word used for the word “proof,” הוכחה. The most effective rebuke is simply to show another the full impact of the consequences of their actions, to prove by showing the outcome, that the action was a negative one. Mostly, we make bad choices because we don’t appreciate the nature and extent of their consequences. When we are shown the consequences of our choices, we often need no further rebuke to understand how wrong the choices were. The consequences of our choices are the proofs of how positive or negative the choices were. Truth is a powerful teacher, and Yoseif knew Truth and how to use it. All he had to say to his brothers was “I am Yoseif. Is my father still alive? (45:3)” With that Yehudah and his brothers immediately knew how wrongly they had judged Yoseif, how poorly they had treated him, and how great a man he really was. They repent, ask for forgiveness and subordinate themselves to him.

Yehudah used his power within to captivate Yoseif’s heart and persuade him to reveal himself. Yoseif had the same inner power: He showed himself willing to fight, he demonstrated humility and he lived by the strength and sanctity of his character. After all this time alone in Egypt, journeying from CEO of Pottifar’s business, to prison and now to the heights of Egyptian aristocracy and power, Yoseif retained his piety and commitment to all of the Torah teachings he had learned from his beloved father. He dominated his brothers with the power within himself which they could not help but admire.

Like our fathers Yehudah and Yoseif, we too can show up with our own power within. Access the great human being that you are at your core, this is more valuable and powerful than any status or extrinsic power you may possess. While always having the willpower to stand up for what is right and make yourself unpopular in its quest if necessary, guard your humility and develop the strength of your character, the brilliance of your essence, the sanctity of your soul. When you show up from this place of your power within, your self-mastery will be the tool by which you will influence and inspire others.

 

 

[1] Bereishit Rabbah 93:6

[2] Nearly all the work I do professionally is teaching leaders in business and government to build and access their humility and character as tools of influence beyond the mere power of their positional status.

[3] Bereishit Rabbah 92:4

[4] The Ralbag understands the verse to be talking of the intelligence with which a wise person needs to draw out his own insights from deep within himself. Others, like the Midrash, understand it to be referring to the intelligence others need in order to draw out the insights of a wise person which would otherwise remain buried in their depths.

[5] For an explanation of why Yoseif goes through the charade of deception and subjects his brothers and father to such seemingly unnecessary worry, see The Power Within.

[6] The Midrash describes the brothers’ plan for what would have become the first act of urban terrorism as each would attack a different marketplace in the city simultaneously. He knew Yehudah’s offer was not out of weakness, but out of righteousness and humility. He also knew that Yehudah prayed that by sacrificing himself for Binyamin, God would forgive his sin against his brother, Yoseif, years before.

[7] Bereishit Rabbah 93:11