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Torah Tuesdays with Hennie Black- Parshat Vayigash




In last week’s Torah portion, we ended with a cliffhanger. Yosef’s brothers come down to Egypt in search of food, where they are apparently treated very well. They are served as honoured guests and are given gifts. However, as they get ready to leave, things take a turn for the worse: Yosef sends them on their way with his goblet planted in Binyamin’s sack as a ruse to force the brothers back.

Yosef’s servants are quickly dispatched to catch up with the brothers and to bring them back to Yosef, who naturally accuses them of theft. Yosef tells his brothers that he will only set them free if they leave their brother Binyamin behind as a slave.

This demand is catastrophic for the family, as Yaakov, their father, conceded to let Binyamin go down to Egypt only after Yehuda promised he would ensure Binyamin’s safe return. After losing Yosef, the loss of Binyamin would absolutely devastate Yaakov, something that Yehuda refuses to let happen.

Yehuda approaches Yosef to negotiate Binyamin’s release, steadfastly refusing to allow Binyamin to stay behind. Hence, the word “Vayigash,” denoting that Yehuda “approaches” Yosef.

Although we are told that Yehuda began his negotiation with Yosef in last week’s parsha, the Torah relates this a second time to indicate Yehuda’s ascendant leadership role. As Yehuda makes his plea on behalf of Binyamin, the other brothers stand to the side unsure as to how to deal with the situation.

The word “vayigash” is found only three times in the Torah—each time indicating an episode in which someone showed true leadership. The commentary Rokeach (Rabbi Elazar Ben Yehuda of Worms, 12th century) connects these three occasions to the three steps forward that we take when we begin the silent Amidah prayer, which symbolizes our approaching G-d.

The first time the word “vayigash” (and he approached) is used is when Avraham hears of G-d’s plan to destroy Sedom. Avraham steps up to G-d and challenges Him, saying, “Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked? “

Even though Sedom embodied ideals that were diametrically opposed to everything that Avraham stood for, he was still concerned for those who may have been innocent. Avraham stepped forward demanding justice. He actively took charge defending the people of Sedom, refusing to be a bystander to others’ suffering.

The word “vayigash” is used a second time in this week’s parsha when Yehuda approaches Yosef to negotiate Binyamin’s release. Yehuda steps forward for his brother, teaching us the Jewish value that all Jews are responsible for their brethren.

The third time this word is used is when the prophet Eliyahu challenges the 450 false prophets of Baal (a pagan deity).  Eliyahu steps up in order to prove the unity and authenticity of G-d. Eliyahu’s stepping forward teaches us to have the strength to sanctify G-d name.

Each incident involved a sense of urgency. And each of these three individuals displayed true leadership. They stepped forward using a combination of action and prayer. Three steps forward—stepping up for humanity, stepping up for family, and stepping up for the sanctification of G-d’s name.

As we come out of the holiday of Chanukah, it is timely to consider how the Maccabees stepped up. Because they took the risk of bold action, we are around today to tell the story. This week’s parsha compels us to ask, “How do we step up in our own lives to make the world a better place?”

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