Torah Portion: Vayigash (He Approached) Genesis 44:18-47:27
HafTorah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Tonight we read of the meeting between Joseph and his brothers, where Joseph reveals his true identity to them. Remember it had been more than 20 years since the brothers sold him into slavery. I am always struck by the question, “How could they have done such a thing to their own brother?”
Finally, I may have an answer to this nagging question. Remember Joseph’s mother was Rachel, the beloved of Jacob. The brothers had a different mother and never really felt any connection to Joseph as a brother. In fact, the first time one of them ever even calls him brother is where Judah suggests that they sell him rather than kill him in Genesis 37:16-20. Even in this case the use of the word brother might be dismissed given the setting. Joseph probably had a different feeling. Look in Genesis 37:16 when asked whom he was seeking and he answered, “I seek my brothers.” From this it appears that there was a different feeling of the brothers toward Joseph than how they felt among themselves. Maybe it would help to look at the Hebrew word for brother. “Ach” not only can mean brother but its root can also mean to bind together. In Ezekiel 37:15-20 we see this word used where G-d says to take two sticks and bind them together so that they are united.
This feeling, this being one together, was not evident in the relationship of Joseph and his other brothers. However, here in the opening verses of our Torah portion Joseph sees something he had never seen before from his brothers. He sees Judah offering himself as a slave to save the other son of Rachel, Benjamin. In verses 44:26 and 33 we see Judah use the word brother when speaking of Benjamin. Something had changed with Judah. What was it? He was different. Look at three cases in his life that might give us a clue of this change. The first case being a cold callous speech where he suggested selling Joseph as a slave in Genesis 37:26-27. Next we see him in Genesis 38 in the incident with Tamar. Torah gives us a clue here in that it says Judah “went down.” He went down more than geographically. He went down morally. Later in this chapter however, we see a change. Tamar is brought out and accused of being a harlot. She defends herself by producing evidence of who the father of her babies is. What could have been Judah’s response? He could have dismissed it and had her stoned but he didn’t. Rather he admitted his sin and took responsibility for it. In fact, in all of Torah to this point, Judah is the first person to admit his sin. He didn’t blame it on someone else or circumstances. He changed. So when we see him here in our Torah portion today, we see that change played out. He offers himself as a slave rather than his brother Benjamin.
This change opens the door for reconciliation between all the brothers and the reunification of the family.
My point in all this is the same applies to us. We all make mistakes. We sin. What is important spiritually is to accept our personal responsibility for that sin, to be accountable for what we have done and to resolve not to do it again. If we confess our sins our sincerity is often shown in our further actions. Do we repeat the sin or when faced with a similar situation do we choose to do things differently? When Judah faced Joseph and had to decide how to respond to the idea of leaving Benjamin as a slave, as he did Joseph 20 years earlier, he responded differently, as must we.