Torah Portion: Vayigash (He Approached) Genesis 44-47
HafTorah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
This week we read of a meeting between Joseph and his brothers as they were reunited. This was a meeting that had great spiritual implications for Israel and for us as well. In it we have for the first time in scripture true repentance. How are we to judge true repentance? We have all heard of others repenting or maybe even been in the place of repenting for our sins. How are we to tell if the penitent is sincere?
Let us take a moment and look at Judah in this week’s section. Earlier when Joseph tells his brothers to bring Benjamin to him they plead with him to not have to do this. However, they go ahead and do it. When they return to Jacob he is vehemently against Benjamin going back with them Genesis 43:8-10, but he relents when Judah tells Jacob that he will put himself as a surety for the boy.
Next we see where Joseph tells the brothers that Benjamin will remain as his slave because Joseph’s cup was found in his bag. Judah came close to Joseph and offered himself as a substitute for his brother. Genesis 44:33, This is quite different from the man who suggested to sell Joseph as a slave and then sat down for a meal. What were the things that brought Judah to such a turn around?
Look back at Genesis 38:1 where the verse says in Hebrew that Judah, “yarad” or went down from his brothers. Judah had taken a path that was spiritually bad for him. He was headed down. In this chapter we read of him meeting his daughter-in-law by the road, going in to her and causing her to become pregnant. Later when confronted by his sin he proclaims that he had sinned and the girl was more righteous than he. Then we see him here next meeting with Joseph and offering his own life for Benjamin. (Read John 15:13)
Now back to the question of how to evaluate true repentance. When a person repents of a sin, then later is faced with similar circumstances, what does he do? The first time with Joseph, Judah was the one to make the suggestion to sell him and then sat down to eat a meal. So, here he could have bid Benjamin farewell and been on his way but he did not. Here we see a completely different reaction. He did not revert to old ways but put himself in jeopardy for the sake of his brother. What was the reaction to his proof that he had changed? Joseph breaks down. For him it was proof that Judah had truly repented and was not the same person who had sold him into slavery. In Judaism it is taught that Judah was the first true repentant based on this meeting between himself and Joseph. As history unfolds we see G-d’s blessing on Judah. He became the ancestor of King David and Jews today carry his name.
Speaking of David, he is another great example of true repentance. In scripture we read how both Saul and David sinned, Saul (I Sam 15:22-23) Saul did not obey G-d and only repented after making excuses for why he did what he did. G-d rejected Saul. In II Sam 3:13 David did not try to justify what he had done but immediately said, “I have sinned.” I pray for each of us to be ready to repent when we have sinned and that this repentance would touch us and change us spiritually to the point we are repulsed by the sin. I pray we are repulsed to the point we flee from it when we find ourselves in a similar place.
Another lesson we can learn from Joseph in this week’s section has to do with forgiveness. Remember when the brothers come to Joseph, the first time in and are explaining who they are? They tell Joseph that they had another brother but “he is no longer with us.” In Hebrew this was stated as a single word, einenee. They did not say what they had done with Joseph. Remember Joseph and the brothers all knew this was not the real truth. They did not accept any of the responsibility for what had happened. This single word could have meant a lot of things. But none of them hinted to the facts and everyone in the room knew the truth. What could Joseph have done? What did he finally do? He told them G-d had been the one, not them, that sent him to Egypt. The point is he did not lash out at them or blame them. He did not try to get even but he defused the issue with them by being forgiving and brought peace not hate into the room.
What a lesson for us! Anger brings more anger. G-d demands we love our enemies. If we, as Joseph did, can look at the larger picture and see G-d’s hand in everything that comes to us it makes forgiveness possible. We do not let ourselves get stuck on the hurt but focus on what G-d is doing in our lives and through the situation we find ourselves in. Let us love one another.