December 18-19, 2015 – 7 Tevet 5776
Annual (Genesis 44:18-47:27): Etz Hayim p. 274; Hertz p. 169
Triennial (Genesis 46:28-47:27): Etz Hayim p. 283; Hertz p. 174
Haftarah (Ezekiel 37:15-28): Etz Hayim, p. 291; Hertz p. 178

PDF Vayiggash 5776

The Humbling Power of Vulnerability

By Yardén Raber, CY Talmud Faculty

In parashat Vayiggash the hatred between Joseph and his brothers comes to an end once and for all. But, of course, the plot that leads to this happy ending is nothing but intricate, and it goes back to some of the previous parshiot, which we will have to mention here.

As if it had been plotted by some deus ex machina, the biblical story that reaches its dramatic climax in our parashah follows a perfect and harmonious literary cycle: the lives of Joseph’s brothers – who sentenced him to an almost certain death years ago — are now at his mercy. The roles have been reversed; the one who was once oppressed is now in the role of the oppressor. Joseph has two options: to wreak revenge on his brothers or to be merciful toward them by revealing his true identity and welcoming them into his new land.

But the sentiment of grief that overwhelms Joseph after all that he went through won’t let him incline toward this second option so easily. In an attempt to test his brothers, Joseph comes up with a plot that borders on the sadistic: how would they feel if their young brother Benjamin was to be held prisoner in Egypt, thus preventing him from seeing his beloved father again?

Does this story ring a bell? Ancient Jewish scholars, such as Philo of Alexandria (De Josepho, XXXIX) and Josephus Flavius (AJ, 2:160-1), have pointed out that the story about the theft of the cup by Benjamin is nothing but Joseph’s projection of his own story and calamity. In other words, in the re-making of this already-known story, Benjamin is not Benjamin, but Joseph himself.

It is precisely here that the invisible hand of the deus ex machina enters the picture again. Judah, the one responsible for selling Joseph as a slave years ago, now intercedes on behalf of Benjamin. His speech reveals sincere feelings of regret for the past events, as well as tenderness for his young brother whose life is bound up with his father’s. Judah’s mediation is not only conceived here as an act of mercy toward Benjamin, but also as one that is capable of amending the injustice suffered by Joseph in the past.

Only after hearing Judah’s sincere words does Joseph abandon his delusions of grandeur and stop playing with his brothers’ lives; Judah’s words are like a magic spell that brings Joseph back to reality. In that reality Joseph is capable of seeing who he really is, and only then he manages to turn his revenge into compassion. Only then he feels the urgent need to reveal himself to his brothers, as if he was recalling his true identity: “It’s me, my brothers! Don’t you recognize me? I am Joseph, I was oppressed and expelled from my own land. I know the heart of the stranger and therefore I cannot tolerate oppression anymore. Please be welcomed in my new land.”

A Vort for Parshat Vayiggash

By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Joseph’s revelation of his true identity to his brothers is one of the Torah’s most dramatic moments. The brothers are dumb-founded and petrified. To convince them Joseph says: “Your eyes see…that my mouth speaks to you,” and Rashi explains: b’lashon hakodesh (in the holy tongue – Hebrew). Harav Mordechai Hakohen (20th C, Israel) reads Joseph’s words carefully. What lashon hakodesh did their “eyes see”? Joseph showed them his library, which had only Jewish books, in Hebrew, not Harry Potter or its Egyptian equivalent. It’s not the clothes that make the person, but the books one has and reads.

Table Talk

By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Here is one of the greatest monologues ever! (I would love to see it on stage.) Judah speaks up, Joseph reveals his identity, the family goes to Egypt, and Joseph helps the Egyptians survive the famine but…

1) We ended last week with a cliffhanger. Now Judah approaches the Egyptian lord (Joseph) with his recounting of the events and his proposal. What tone (meek, tough, defiant, scared, or something else) do you hear in Judah’s speech, and why might he choose to speak in this manner?

2) Joseph sends out everyone from the room before introducing himself to his brothers. Why do you think that he did so? Remember that there are at least 3 points of view here: Joseph, the brothers, the (Egyptian?) people that are sent out.

3) Joseph, with approval from Pharaoh, sends his brothers back, equipped with wagons, to fetch their families (45:9-23). However, the group going back is not called “Joseph’s brothers” as we might have expected, but rather Bnei Yisrael, the children of Israel (45:21). Why? (Keep in mind that we are now on the seam of the private story of Joseph in Egypt, and the national story that will unfold starting in 2 weeks in the book of Exodus.)

4) 45: 26 is one of those moments that we wish that the Torah would have given us more details about. How did the brothers tell Jacob that

Joseph was still alive? (And how, if at all, did they explain what had happened 22 years earlier when Joseph disappeared?) The Torah does fill in Jacob’s initial reaction. What is it?

5) At the end of the Parasha there is an account of the rest of the years of famine. As the land is weakened by the famine and people have used up all the silver they have to buy food, they turn to Joseph to come up with other forms of payment. What seem to be the economic and social effect of the famine on the population of Egypt? (47:13-26.) Why do you think that the Torah tell us this part of the story?