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Close Encounters

Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself.” — Genesis 44:18

This Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 37:15–28.

Last week’s Torah reading ended on a cliffhanger. After pleading with Jacob to send his youngest son down to Egypt and promising to return him home safely, it appeared that Jacob’s sons had failed. The brothers had been framed, and Benjamin was set up. Joseph’s silver goblet was found in Benjamin’s bag and presumed stolen. Joseph declared his intention to keep Benjamin in Egypt as punishment, and the brothers were at a loss.

This week’s Torah portion begins with what happens next: “Then Judah went up to him . . .” Judah, who took responsibility for returning Benjamin home safely to Jacob, would not accept Joseph’s ruling. He approached Joseph to beg for mercy. And that’s how this selection gets its name: Vayigash, “and he approached.”

Beginning with this first confrontation between Judah and Joseph, the reading deals with several more encounters. Many loose ends are tied up as different people are brought together. Shortly after Judah defiantly stated his case before the man he believed to be Egyptian royalty, Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers. The 22-year saga came to an end as the brothers were reunited and made amends.

That reunion was followed by the equally dramatic meeting of Jacob and Joseph when Jacob himself traveled to Egypt. Toward the end of the selection, Pharaoh encountered Jacob and his sons. It was a meeting between two powerful leaders and laid the foundation for the lengthy stay that the children of Israel would have in Pharaoh’s land.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon teaches us that there is a time for everything. Among the “times” that he lists, Solomon wrote that there is “a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). While other Scriptures teach us about the importance of breaking away from others or holding back from speaking, this selection teaches that there is also a time to speak up and a time to come together. It was time for Judah to speak up on behalf of his brother, no matter what the consequences. It was time for Joseph to reveal his true identity. It was time to heal old rifts and mend broken hearts. It was time.

Confrontations are not always pleasant, so we tend to avoid them. But there is a time for everything, and sometimes, we need to do what we must. If there is a confrontation that you have been avoiding, you may want to take this week to think things over. Although difficult at first, speaking up and coming together – when the time is right – can lead to healing and peace.

 

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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January 2, 2017
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