VaYigash 5769 (2009)

A Drash for VaYigash 5769

by Marc Mangel

There are many events in the Torah about which we can intellectualize but not feel the power of the moment in the way that it happened then.

This week, we have one case in which we can:  when – at the start of Chapter 45 – Joseph no longer able to continue the charade tells everyone to leave the room and says (v 3)

“I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” “Ani Yosef.  Ha-od avi chai?”  Every year I am struck by the power of this simple question.

What brought us to that moment?  It is the preceding three verses in which Judah says

“Because your servant [Judah] took responsibility  for the youth [Benjamin] from my father saying ‘If I do not bring him to you then I will have sinned to my father for all time. Now, please let your servant remain in the place of the youth as a servant to my lord and let the youth go up (to Canaan) with his brothers.  For how can I go up to my father if the youth is not with me, lest I see the evil that will befall my father”

About these verses the Ishbitzter teaches “The power that the blessed God instilled in the tribe of Yehuda – that is, all of us Jews —  is that he will never give up”.  Shem MiShmuel teaches that when hearing these words, Joseph realized the Judah had repented the sin of putting Joseph in the pit because he was willing to accept the humiliation and suffering of a slave.

Today, I want to particularly focus on the first verse of Judah’s final please:  Chapter 44, v 32, about which Nehama Leibowitz is silent (although she comments on 44:30-31 and 33).

From VaYetze, we learned  “You are responsible for your own deeds. Not the organization, not the community, and not somebody backing you. You, and you alone.”.  Rashi tells us that when Judah says “I will have sinned to my father for all time” it means to be banished both in this world and the world to come – that is, to use the vernacular, if Judah blows off his responsibility he will be suffer both in this world and the world to come.

From VaYetze and VaYigash we learn two things as people named in honor of Judah:

First, that we are responsible for our own deeds.  Second, that when we take responsibility for something, we MUST follow through because it matters not only here but in the world to come.


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