Then Y'hudah approached Yosef ...
If you have been following our weekly midrashes, you have probably seen that I dissect these parashas according to authentic Jewish and Chassidic eschatological traditions, as well as fish heavily for ethical patterns. Par'shat Vayigash brings a conclusion to both.
The sages of Israel often associated the peace, plenty, security, and love of The World to Come with the resolution of the conflict between the two Houses of Israel, the House of Judah (Southern kingdom/Leah), and the House of Ephrayim (Northern Kingdom/Rachel). Our text this week takes us to this important resolution and therefore on the prophetic path envisioned by the prophet Ezekiel, in a vision preceding that of the great war of Gog and Magog (chapt 38-39),
"You, human being, take one stick and write on it, 'For Y'hudah and those joined with him [among] the people of Isra'el.' Next, take another stick and write on it, 'For Yosef, the stick of Efrayim, and all the house of Isra'el who are joined with him.' Finally, bring them together into a single stick, so that they become one in your hand. When your people ask you what all this means, tell them that Adonai Elohim says this: 'I will take the stick of Yosef, which is in the hand of Efrayim, together with the tribes of Isra'el who are joined with him, and put them together with the stick of Y'hudah and make them a single stick, so that they become one in my hand.' (Eze 37:16-19 CJB)
We see today a preliminary time of this united Israelite nation in the nation of Israel itself where all the descendants of Jacob are called 'Jews', descendant of Judah, regardless of which tribe they originally belong to.
Our parasha takes us to the mechanics of this union. As we have seen last week, Joseph tests his brothers as to their resolve of repentance, and also as to their attitude towards their father. Were they going to break his heart again by easily giving up Benjamin and thus, as children of Leah, secure their own inheritance from the House of Rachel? As we saw, the House of Leah passed the test. Judah rose to the occasion when he offered himself as a slave to Pharaoh instead of Benjamin in order to protect his father Jacob,
So now if I go to your servant my father, and the boy isn't with us -- seeing how his heart is bound up with the boy's heart --when he sees that the boy isn't with us, he will die; and your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sh'ol with grief. For your servant himself guaranteed his safety; I said, 'If I fail to bring him to you, then I will bear the blame before my father forever.' Therefore, I beg you, let your servant stay as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go up with his brothers. For how can I go up to my father if the boy isn't with me? I couldn't bear to see my father so overwhelmed by anguish." (Gen 44:30-34 CJB)
On a side note, this story shows us the truth in the old adage, 'As long as there is life there is hope!' We often do wrong things in life, things that we feel we can never correct. But if later, if even much later, the path of our life takes us to a situation that is similar to the one we have previously miserably failed in; if at that time we draw from the lessons learned and the maturing caused by that miserable failure and make the right decision, it serves as an atonement, as a second chance to pass the test and this time get a A+. HaShem is truly the God of second chances.
Back to Judah and Joseph. The mechanics that establish the cosmic reconciliation between Judah and Joseph are very simple and were the ones taught us by the Master.
Let's first look at Joseph. The important ingredient that Joseph needed to bring to the table was his total faith in HaShem which caused him to not desire to avenge himself from his brothers,
Yosef said to his brothers,
"Please! Come closer." And they came closer.
He said, "I am Yosef, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But don't be sad that you sold me into slavery here or angry at yourselves, because it was God who sent me ahead of you to preserve life. ... God sent me ahead of you to ensure that you will have descendants on earth and to save your lives in a great deliverance. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household and ruler over the whole land of Egypt. (Gen 45:4-8 CJB)
Joseph showed us here the true meaning of the HaShem's injunction through Moses and Paul,
Don't take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself; I am Adonai. (Lev 19:18 CJB)
Never seek revenge, my friends; instead, leave that to God's anger; for in the Tanakh it is written, "Adonai says, 'Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay.' " (Rom 12:19 CJB)
Now is the time to take stock of our lives. Do we bear any grudges for the suffering caused us by others? Does our attitude towards it conflict with these verses? The Master tells us,
So if you are offering your gift at the Temple altar and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift where it is by the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift. (Mat 5:23-24 CJB)
Now let's look at Judah's participation in the peace-making process.
Judah really had a change of heart. From, "... what advantage is it to us if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let's sell him to the Yishma`elim, instead of putting him to death with our own hands. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh." ... (Gen 37:26-27 CJB) to, "Therefore, I beg you, let your servant stay as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go up with his brothers. For how can I go up to my father if the boy isn't with me? I couldn't bear to see my father so overwhelmed by anguish."(Gen 44:33-34 CJB), Judah made a 180 degree reversal. An example of true repentance which HaShem greatly honored. This radical change from the pits of selfishness to the grandeur of giving himself for his brother and father earned his house the crown of Israel.
If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it! (Mat 3:8 CJB)
Pain [repentance] handled in God's way produces a turning from sin to God which leads to salvation, and there is nothing to regret in that! ... (2Co 7:10 CJB)
The deeds of the fathers are truly portent to the children. In their deeds the fathers not only show us that they learned obedience though the things that they suffered, but they also left us a blueprint on how to also bring the Kingdom of God on earth today in our families, congregations, and communities, and that before it eventually covers the earth as the waters cover the seas.
MAY WE LEARN LIKE JOSEPH TO PUT AWAY RESENTMENT, GRUDGES, AND DESIRE FOR VENGEANCE.
MAY WE LEARN LIKE JUDAH WHAT IS THE MEANING OF TRUE REPENTANCE, AND HONESTLY CHANGE OUR WAYS.
SO THAT AS THE MASTER TAUGHT US TO PRAY TO OUR FATHER:
תבא מלכותך ... כאשר בשמים גם בארץ׃
"MAY YOU KINGDOM COME ... ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN"
(Mat 6:10 CJB)