Parshas Vayigash 5758

"And Yehuda approached him (Yosef) and said, "please (Bi) my Lord. . . " (Genesis 44:18)

The verse says only that he approached him but it doesn't specify whom he approached. Since it is written ambiguously it can be considered an allusion.

"And Yehuda approached him", refers to Hashem. Yehuda is a hint to the Yehudi, the Jew. Here we find a lesson how a Jew is supposed to present himself to Hashem. Our Rabbis said, "Even though they have transgressed, they are still called Yisrael." (Sanhedrin 44a) "And even though they are defiled, the Divine presence is still amongst them." (Midrash Toras Cohanim, Parshas Metzora)

When a Jew looks at himself reflectively and considers how distant he really is from having a true connection with Hashem, if he at least maintains a desire to do Teshuva, then, even though he is defiled, he is still called Yisrael. So he must strenghthen himself and say, "The way I am is the way I am. This is the way I will approach Hashem."

Since he always has in him a divine spark which never can be extinguished, he can come to Hashem saying, "Here I am. What you see is what you get (at present)."

This is the meaning if Bi Adoni, (please my Lord), with the eternal divine spark that is inside of me, I am approaching You. "The bottom line is", he says to Hashem, "I am Jew and a Jew has a divine spark. There is always a part of me which is connected to You, no matter how far I might stray!"

"And to his father he sent ten donkeys laden with the good things of Egypt. . . " (Genesis 45:23)

Rashi says that he sent him old wine which old men fancy. What message was Yosef trying to convey to his father Yaacov with a gift of old wine.

Yosef had risen in an unprecedented manner to the heights of Egyptian aristocracy. He therefore had adopted Egyptian dress and customs as well as becoming fluent in the Egyptian language. On the surface he was in every way the cream of the crop of the Egyptian monarchy.

Yet Yosef harbored a secret known only to him, his wife and sons. He wanted his father to understand that even though he had adopted the ways and manners of an Egyptian prince, this change was only cosmetic. His soul was still consonant with the ways that he learned from his father and mother during his youth. Yosef would insure that Egypt would be a place where Yaacov could continue to raise and educate his family in the religion of their ancestors, Avraham and Yitzchok.

This idea is found in Pirkei Avos (4:27), "Rabbi Meir said, Don't look at the vessel itself, rather at what is contained in it. A new flask may contain old wine, while an old flask may contain not even new wine."

Moreover, old wine can bring a message of encouragement to old people reminding them that just as wine improves with age, so can their advanced age be a desirable quality. Yosef is telling his father that he is needed to continue serving as the head of the soon to be reunited family. His experience and wisdom will lead them to the establishment of the soon-to-be-born nation of Israel.

"And he (Yaacov) sent Yehuda before him to Yosef to show (instruct) the way to the Land of Goshen, and then they came into the land of Goshen." (Genesis 46:28)

Rashi here quotes the Midrash which interprets the word to show or instruct (l'horos l'fanav). The Midrash learns that he was sent to establish a house of study or instruction (hora'a), which would serve to perpetuate the already established tradition of Torah learning.

Says the Divrei Yisrael, the Rebbe of Modjitz, when it comes to learning Torah, everything is dependent on Teshuva. This is reflected in the fifth blessing of the weekday Shmoneh Esreh. "Return us our Father (in Teshuva) to Your Torah, bring us close, our King, to Your service, and bring us back to You in whole-hearted repentance. Blessed are You Hashem who desires repentance."

Teshuva comes first as a prerequisite to Torah, and afterwards as the safeguard for the Torah learned.

Yehuda is considered one of the ultimate Baalei Teshuva.

The famous incident of Yehuda and Tamar is found in Genesis 38. Yehuda takes Tamar as the wife for his son Er. He was a bad guy and dies while Tamar is still a young woman. Yehuda commands his next oldest son, Onan, to marry his brother's widow and to perpetuate his name by having a child with her. (This is the Torah's first levirite marriage.) Onan doesn't like the idea of having to carry on for his brother and withdraws during relations so as not to impregnate Tamar. This act did not find favor in Hashem's eyes, and Onan also soon died. Yehuda promised his youngest son Shelah to Tamar as soon as he becomes of age. Tamar returns as a lonely widow to her father's home. A number years passed, Yehuda himself became a widower and neglected to marry his son Shelah to Tamar.

Nevertheless, Tamar knew that she was destined to be the mother of the Jewish monarchy. When Yehuda went out to the sheep shearing one season, she disguised herself as a prostitute, and waited for Yehuda at a crossroads. Yehuda seeking comfort for the loss of his wife, and not recognizing Tamar, initiates relations with her for the price of a kid goat. Not having the animal with him, he leaves her some personal effects as security. When he later sends one of his men to deliver the goat to the prostitute, she is nowhere to be found (having returned to her father's home and resumed her widow's garb). "Let her keep the security", exclaimed Yehuda, wanting to be finished with the affair.

Three months later came the report that Tamar, the widowed daughter-in-law of Yehuda, was pregnant. Yehuda passed judgment that she is to be burned alive for her lack of propriety. As she was being taken to her punishment, she sent a messenger with the personal effects of Yehuda saying that the owner of the items was the father of her child.

Yehuda immediately recognized them. He could have denied the charge and skirted the affair for life. Yet he publicly admitted his involvement with her exclaiming, "She is more righteous (innocent) than I, for I neglected to marry her to my son Shelah."

Tamar in fact gave birth to twins, Peretz and Zerach. Peretz, the oldest, became the ancestor of King David. (Ruth 4:18-20)

This quality of Teshuva is reflected in the blessing that Moshe Rabbenu gave to the tribe of Yehuda before his death. (Deut. 33:7)

Normally the blessings for the tribes are given in chronological order, from oldest to youngest. Nevertheless Moshe Rabbenu preempts the blessings of Shimon and Levi, and blesses Yehuda, the fourth-born, right after Reuven, the first-born. Why? Rashi says that he was grouped together with Reuven since he also was a Ba'al Teshuva. (After the death of Rachel, Yaacov moved his bed from her tent to the tent of her maidservant Bilhah. Reuven, concerned for the honor of his mother, removed the bed to her tent. The Gemarra tells us that it is considered as if he actually slept with his father's wife. Reuven, however did Teshuva for his act.)

Therefore, since Teshuva is the prerequisite to Torah, there is no better person than Yehuda to dispatch to establish the House of Study in Egypt.

". . .and he (Yosef) fell on his (Yaacov's) neck and wept for a long time." (Genesis 46:29)

Rashi comments that Yaacov didn't reciprocate Yosef's display of affection, and didn't weep, or hug and kiss him at all. At that moment says the Midrash, he was occupied with reciting the Shema.

Why did Yaacov decide that that moment, his reunion with his beloved son Yosef after 22 years, was an appropriate time to recite the Shema?

The Baal ShemTov taught that this is the way of the Tzaddik. He disciplines himself to turn every urge and emotion towards Hashem. Therefore, when he feels like showing affection for a loved one, he directs those emotions into affection for Hashem. Yaacov, when he first saw Yosef after 22 years, wanted to throw his arms around him. Nevertheless he restrained himself and turned all of that love to Hashem, saying the Shema as the ultimate fulfillment of the commandment, "You shall love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, with all soul and with all your might." (Deut. 6:5)

"And Yisrael dwelled in the Land of Egypt in the province of Goshen and they established their home there and their numbers increased greatly." (Genesis 47:27)

The Kli Yakar paints a frightening picture of the change that occurred in Bnei Yisrael, in the short interval since they first arrived in Egypt. Once in Egypt, they started to live the good life, and began to establish what they felt were permanent homes. He explains here, in the beginning of Parshas Vayechi, and in the beginning of Parshas Shemos, that this is part of the eventual process of enslavement of the Bnei Yisrael. They made themselves ripe for it by forgetting where they came from. They were only supposed to stay in Egypt temporarily in order to wait out the famine in Eretz Yisrael.

The Kli Yakar bemoans the people of his generation (18th century Poland) who were building large, permanent and fancy houses of stone as if they were establishing their future on foreign soil. It can only be, rebukes the Kli Yakar, a sign that they have stopped seeking Hashem and desiring the day when we will dwell in peace in our Land.

Only when such a desire is foremost in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people in every country of our exile, will we be able to return and live in Eretz Yisrael in real peace and security, dwelling as one with the land. May the day come soon!

Email Any Questions? Comments?

Return to the Nishmas Chayim Parsha and Holiday Archives