Parshat Vayigash: Rising to the Occasion, Elisheva Rosensveig, shana bet
This week's parsha, Parshat Vayigash, begins in the middle of an interaction between Yehuda and Yosef. Yehuda is pleading for Yosef to pardon Binyamin for having the goblet in his bag. Yehuda steps forward here - "Vayigash". In Tal Chermon, Rav Aviner explains that the whole controversy and hatred between the brothers and Yosef is due to their different values and the different ‘worlds’ in which they lived. Yosef's essence is more physically oriented, and that is why he's able to be a ruler. The brothers, on the other hand, are more spiritually oriented. A leader needs to incorporate the values and needs of his people in his mode of governance. The problem Yosef had with his brothers was that he couldn’t incorporate their essence properly, and therefore had a difficult time governing them. When Yehuda says "Mi Chamocha kiParoah,," he is telling Yosef that you, like a Pharoah, are involved in the material world. Yehuda does not think that the essence of a Jew's role is physical and worldly. He believes Yosef is leaving behind the pursuit of spirituality in this world. Yosef is not able to do that, he is more involved in the practical and physical applications in this world.
Yosef receives this essence from his mother, Rachel, who was the wife of Yaakov who was loved for the physical beauty. Leah was the internal ruchani wife. Only in the days of David did the ability to lead with both aspects, the chumri (material) and ruchani (spiritual), come about. He is the descendent of Yehuda. This ability first appears in this week’s Parsha. When it says "Vayigash Yehuda", Yehuda is stepping forward, his essence is switching to a leadership role and Malchut (royalty) begins to come from him.
In order to fully understand Yehuda’s initiative, though, it is important to explore where the word "Vayigash" is used throughout Tanach to see what it really means. The first time the term is used is in Bereishit (18:23). There, the Torah tells the story of Avraham and his pleading with G-d not to destroy Sedom, with the hope that perhaps there are some Tzaddikim there. In his book “To Heal A Fractured World”, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that this moment is a lesson to Avraham in how to parent Yitzchak. The Torah puts the story with Sedom right after the angel told Avraham that he would have a son, in order for the decree on Sedom to be a guide for Avraham in raising Yitzchak. The juxtaposition of the two stories teaches Avraham that he must teach Yitzchak not to accept the evils in the world as G-d's will but to question and challenge what is going on and try to fix the world. Divine justice is something we cannot entirely understand, but it is compared to the way a child perceives punishment from a parent as evil when it is really not so. We are not asked to understand G-d’s justice. With human justice, though, we are asked to hear the cry of the oppressed; to work within our own limits to help those affected by that justice. Hashem is teaching Avraham this lesson with Sedom in order that he can instill this in Yitzchak, the continuation of Am Yisrael. This, in my mind, based on this perush of the text, is a pivotal moment in the life of Avraham. He is learning this crucial lesson and comes forward to Hashem and pleads to at least save the Tzaddikim. He is challenging, disputing and questioning the seemingly evil and is promoting human justice and listening to the cry of the oppressed.
The next time "Vayigash" is used is in Bereishit (27:22). There, it is used in relation to Yaakov stealing the bracha from Eisav. This moment represents a big change in Yaakov. According to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, it is at this moment when Yaakov changes from an "Ish Tam Yoshev Beohalim" into an “Ish Yodea Tzayid”. While initially Yaakov was a “simple learner”, he is now transformed into a conniving person like Eisav. This was a change that ran counter to the very essence of Yaakov as a person -his midah of Emet- to the antithesis of Eisav. He did it only in order to protect the future of the Jewish people. Rav Eliezer Melamed explains from this story that Yitzchak knew that Yaakov was a Tzaddik and Eisav was not, but he did not want Am Yisrael to just sit back and be passive when other nations harm us, assuming that they are afflictions from the will of G-d. Yitzchak thought that Yaakov was this way. Once he actively fought for the bracha, he realized that Yaakov in urgent time can rise to the occasion and step forward in order to help the bigger picture, the future of Am Yisrael. That is why Yitchak had a "Charada Gedola" after he realized that he gave the bracha to Yaakov. He realized the big mistake he almost made. He misjudged Yaakov's abilities and the future of Am Yisrael could have suffered from this mistake.
Another story in which this term is used is in Yehoshua (14:6): "Vayigshu Bnei Yehuda" this is in regard to Shevet Yehuda conquering their Shevet's Nachala. They were the first shevet to do so. They began a string of event that led all of Am Yisrael in conquering their own nachalot. This brings the whole story full circle. Yehuda's action in this Parsha reverberates in his descendents. This trait of taking charge, stepping to the plate is seen in bnei yehuda in sefer Yehoshua.
We can see that the usage of the word "Vayigash" depicts something great: a real change in a person. That person is a different person before and after the "vayigash"- the stepping forward. This is done by the personality seen taking the opportunity to change and do something big. This is the only way one can really change and become the better person he should be. Through the big challenges and taking advantage of the moment, a person can learn to shine. Through this one action of Yehuda he changed the destiny of his descendents until this day. Mashiach is going to come out of Yehuda- Mashiach ben David. Yehuda became the person he was meant to become. All it took was the ability to take advantage of the opportunity that was placed in front of him.