“How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.” — Genesis 44:34
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.
This week’s Torah portion picks up in the middle of a dramatic moment. At Joseph’s demand, his brothers were forced to bring Benjamin to Egypt in order to secure Simeon’s release from prison and to acquire lifesaving provisions for their starving families back in Canaan.
Taking Benjamin down to Egypt was risky. For all the brothers knew, Joseph was dead, and so they thought Benjamin was the only son left to Jacob from his beloved wife Rachel. And at this point in the story, the brothers were intentionally set up to think that Benjamin’s life was at stake. They were distraught and feared not only for the life of their brother, but also for the well-being of their father, Jacob, who might not survive such devastating news if Benjamin were to die.
This is where our reading begins. Judah approached Joseph, thinking he was talking to the Prime Minister of Egypt, and not realizing he was talking to his long-lost brother. This is the watershed moment. Judah pleaded with Joseph for Benjamin’s life, saying, “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me?” Seeing that his brothers had truly learned their lesson – that they would never again turn their backs on one another – Joseph could no longer contain himself. He revealed his true identity, forgave his brothers for their past misdeeds, and declared that he would provide for his entire family.
I’d like to revisit those crucial words uttered by Judah thousands of years ago, words that have reverberated for thousands of years: “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me?” On another level, the question is one that we all need to ask ourselves: “How can we return to our Father in heaven if our brothers and sisters are not with us?” In other words, it’s not enough for us as individuals to live good and godly lives. We are also responsible for the lives of our brothers and sisters.
We read in Deuteronomy 14:1, “You are the children of the LORD . . .” Think about that for a moment. We are ALL God’s children. As brothers and sisters, we must worry and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of each other. How can we return to our Father in heaven without being able to say that we did our best to help our brothers and sisters out?
In Hebrew, the word for charity is tzedakah, which shares the same route as the Hebrew word for justice. This is because charity is not just a kindness in Judaism. It is just; it’s our social and spiritual obligation. We must extend a helping hand to others. We must care for their physical needs and spiritual well-being. Then, when we do come to the heavenly gates, we will be able to tell our Father that, yes, we have brought His children home, too.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President