To write a Dvar Torah this week and not talk about anti-Semitism is very difficult, but really the fact is that this week’s parsha is primarily about healing, reunion, and moving into the future. In times such as these, we often hear great pronouncements about the birth-pangs of the Messianic age, and perhaps we can gain some insight from the parsha as to what we can do to help end this Edomite exile?
Parshas Vayigash is the culmination of the narrative of Yoseph, but really it is the completion of the story of the reunification of Bnei Yisrael. There is a beautiful verse in perek 45 that does not seem to draw a tremendous amount of commentary, perhaps because it is natural to the sequence of the narrative. This verse, however, is one of tremendous importance for Jews today to remember: “And he [Yoseph] kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and after, his brothers talked with him” (45: 15).
Not to him, but with him. Twelve sons, twelve different personalities, twelve different fathers of tribes that were going to become a people, and they embraced and talked together. Yes, this is one more call for unity among the many that we hear after each tragedy, but are we listening? Perhaps we will know how well we are doing when we can relate to the very next verse that describes the reaction to the news that Yoseph’s brothers had come to Egypt: “It was good in the eyes of pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants” (45:16).
There are some very interesting things we can learn from the dynamics of Yoseph and his brothers in Parshas Vayigash, perhaps things that weren’t even relevant until the post World War II era, since this is the significance of the eternity of Torah. The parsha begins in the middle of perek 44, which certainly makes one wonder why the sages didn’t choose to break the parsha at the beginning or end of the perek. It also, perhaps, draws particular significance to the verse that begins the parsha: “Then Yehuda went up to him and said, ‘Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are like Pharaoh” (44:18).
In verse 44:18, Yehuda told Yoseph that he is k’paro, like Pharaoh. Isn’t it odd how the brothers did not recognize Yoseph at all. Of course, one can say that they did not expect to find him in a position of authority, or, perhaps more honestly, they did not expect to find him alive. But one would think that he stood out a little from the Egyptians that surrounded him, after all the origin of the Egyptians was from Ham and the origin of Yaakov’s family was Shem, and they came from different regions. However, when the brothers were spoken to aggressively in Egyptian and told to speak through a translator to respond to their Hebrew, there was no reason to look closer, certainly not at the powerful man dressed in regal Egyptian robes who was called Tzaphnas Paneha, as Joseph had been renamed by Pharaoh. Generations later, the Chatam Sofer would comment that the reason that Israelites were redeemed was that they kept themselves separate from the Egyptians by maintaining their clothes, their names, and their language, but for Yoseph, using a foreign name, speaking Egyptian, and wearing the clothes gifted by Pharaoh were actually the means by which he protected his neshama.
In the next 16 verses, Yehuda speaks to Yoseph completely from the heart, relaying everything that has occurred between the two of them from his perspective and demonstrating how important is their desire to protect both Binyamin and Yaakov. This is significant because of more than just the history of this specific family. Yehuda here represent klal Yisrael, and his descendants will be the leaders of the people. Binyamin, according to the Midrash, was a near perfect Tzadik, and he represents the righteous innocents. Yaakov, the man of the tents, represents the sages of the Torah, our men of wisdom and knowledge. When Yoseph, who could perhaps represent those Jews who would become completely submerged in a foreign culture, heard Yehuda – heard his honesty and his sincerity – he finally cleared the room for what one could jokingly call the ultimate bagel.*
This past week, Jews throughout the observant world turned their focus to the incredible gathering of tens of thousands of Jews for the Siyum Hashas, the celebration of the completion of learning a page of Talmud a day for the seven and a half years it takes to complete the entire Talmud. The Talmud is studied by an incredible range of Jews, and I believe that if one wished to one could find representatives of every “denomination” and each kehilla whose life has been touched by this program of study. There were Jews from across the spectrum of observance, and that unity is palpable and energizing.
Now, however, we who are connected, we who have dwelled in the tents of Yaakov, must show the world our honesty, our sincerity, and the beauty of living a Jewish life by being extra conscientious of how we speak and how we act, ready at all times to make a kiddush Hashem. This is not so that we might appease the seemingly growing number of those who hate us, but so that we might show our honest regret at our separation from those members of our nation who have lost their names, their dress, and their language, but who have not lost their neshamas. They are just waiting for an opening to embrace their brethren.
Discussions of the messianic era refer to a future world of peace and to a time when Hashem’s glory will be revealed. It is also said that it will be a time when the nations of the world will want to work for the shared goal of Hashem’s glory with the Jewish people. This, however, can only occur when all twelve brothers kiss and weep and talk together, for only then will klal Yisrael find the favor in the eyes of the other nations to be a light unto the world. Until then, we remain in a painful state of gulus.
*The bagel, in this case, is a newish term for moments when one Jew drops Jewish terms into the conversation in order to let the other person know that they too are a member of the Tribe.