Torah Portion: Vayigash (And He Approached) B’resheet (Genesis) 44-47
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Our Torah portion today covers one of the most touching scenes in Torah, the reunion of Yoseph/Joseph and his brothers after being separated for 22 years. Tonight I want us to look at two of the main characters of this drama and see what we might learn from them that could impact our lives.
Our portion opens with the meeting of Yoseph and Yehudah/Judah. It begins with these words in Genesis 44:18, “Then Judah came near him and said, Oh my lord, let your servant, I beg you speak a word in my lord’s ear.” As we read these words keep in mind the last time Yoseph saw his brothers was 22 years ago when they deliberately caused him terrible suffering. They tossed him, stripped of his clothing, into a pit and sold him into slavery. This action caused him to be separated from his loving father, humiliated by being sold as a slave, wrongly accused of trying to assault his owner’s wife and then thrown into prison. All this suffering began with his brother’s actions, led by Yehudah, and now they stood before him in need.
Take a moment and consider how you would have felt in Yoseph’s place. We could certainly have understood if he had reacted harshly toward his brother’s, especially Yehudah. The moment of begging for help as he was dragged away by slave traders would have been his last memory of his brothers.
Given this setting I want us first to look at Yehudah and see what we can learn from his actions. The first verse we read gives us some information of how Yehudah approached the man he thought was an Egyptian. In this passage we read, “let your servant, I beg you speak a word in my lord’s ear.” In the Hebrew this gives us an understanding that the two men were very close physically. Yehudah was basically whispering in Yoseph’s ear. He went on in the following verses to explain that their father was an old man who loved his youngest son, Benjamin, very much. Benjamin was the only remaining son of Ya’cove’s/Jacob’s favorite wife and he had a brother who was dead. He explained that his father did not want to let the boy go to Egypt in fear of also losing him. However he had been convinced to let the boy go with Yehudah agreeing to be responsible for the boy. He vowed to put himself as a slave rather than allow Benjamin to be kept in Egypt.
As we read on in the next verse in Genesis 45:1 we see Yoseph could no long hold back the tears. He broke down crying and revealed his true identity to his brothers. What was it that brought Yoseph to tears? What does this scene teach us about true repentance?
As we said earlier Yehudah had been the one who suggested selling Yoseph all those years ago. After that act the next time we see Yehudah is in Genesis 38, where he met his daughter-in-law by the road and thought she was a harlot. You can read and see in that chapter he was faced with a choice and chose wisely. So, in these verses today we see him as a different person. He could have let Benjamin remain in Egypt. He could have put his own life before his promise to his father. But instead, he put his own life on the line for his brother. I think Yoseph could see he had changed. He was no longer the brother he was 22 years ago. Here, when presented with the same type of situation, he did not sell his brother out. He did the right thing. He was willing to stand up for his brother.
This was what Yoseph was looking for. In the past the brothers sold him and now Yehudah refused to repeat his sin of the past. Repentance must be deeper than just the words of our mouth. It must be followed by actions. Our future actions must bear out the words of our mouth. G-d expects our lives to change. Our actions must reflect our words. When Yoseph saw this in his brothers he could not hold back his tears any longer.
Now let us look at Yoseph for a moment. How was he able to let the terrible acts of his brothers go? How are we to let go of the past hurts in our own life? I think he gives us our answer in Genesis 45:4-8. Yoseph saw the past as being in G-d’s hands or divine providence. Yoseph was able to understand that no matter the actions of another human being G-d is always in control. He is always watching, always guiding. Yoseph understood that whatever his brothers had done by their own free will, G-d’s will was, for him and for us, always to bring us to what He has for us in our own life. Our challenge is to trust the Father to bring good out of hurt, to allow G-d to bring us to a place of complete trust in Him. This is a challenging place to come to for any of us but Yoseph gives us a look at the way to rest.
Finally, Yehudah’s repentance and actions to live that out resulted in him being the tribe from which the Messiah would come, giving validity by G-d that he had truly changed.
Let us all consider both repentance and letting G-d take us through whatever comes into our life. G-d told Jacob He would go with him into Egypt. A wonderful picture of how G-d never leaves us when we experience our own time in Egypt.