Vayigash (He approached)

VayigashGenesis 44:18 to 47:27

As the Joseph saga comes to its conclusion, we see two leaders emerge… The first, Judah is part of Israel’s family. He shows leadership by both repenting his past errors and confronting future problems. The second leader is Joseph, the first Jew in Diaspora. He becomes a national leader in his adopted homeland.

Through the story of Joseph we see the emergence of Judah as a strong, moral leader. At the start of the saga we saw Judah as one of the brothers who suggested killing Joseph because of their anger toward him. It was Judah who suggested that, instead of killing Joseph, they should sell him to the caravan of passing traders.

In last week’s text we read that the brothers journey to Egypt for a second time to secure food during the famine. As they leave, Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, has been accused of stealing a silver goblet. At the start of this week’s parsha we read that Judah approaches Joseph … whose true identity he still does not know … and explains that if any harm came to Benjamin, his father Jacob would surely die. Showing, courage and leadership, Judah volunteers to become the slave in place of Benjamin.

Then later in the text we see compassion from Judah as he admits his involvement with Tamar. She was selected to wed Judah’s oldest son who died shortly after their marriage. Then, through a Levirate marriage (a marriage a younger brother marries the wife of a deceased brother to carry his name and family possessions into the future. The first son of this Levirate marriage is recognized as the son of the deceased brother.) The second son also dies. Judah is fearful for the life of his third son. Even though he promises Tamar that he will be her partner, the marriage never takes place. Tamar feels that Jacob’s family owes her an heir. She poses as a harlot and tricks Judah into having relations with her. When Judah learns that she is pregnant, he says that she should be put to death because she was betrothed to his youngest son.

When Judah learns that he is the real father of this child, he admits that it was he who was wrong.

Through both the Tamar story and his reactions to the threats against Benjamin show Judah’s tishuvah – repentance, leadership, compassion, and strong moral character. And, as we will see in the future of Israel, it is the tribe of Judah that shows leadership.

The second leader to emerge is Joseph. He became the first Israelite to live and settle in Diaspora. Because he kept his faith in God while in a land with differing traditions and gods, he has been called a righteous man by the sages.

Now in the 21st century, do we view Joseph as a model for Jews in Diaspora … or just a mirror image of what the Jew in Diaspora has become?

At the beginning of the Joseph saga we see him as an arrogant teen who spies on his brothers for his father. The brothers sell him into slavery.

In Egyptian slavery his personality changes as he learns to understand the needs of people around him. During this period he adopts the customs and mannerisms of Egypt… while keeping his faith in God. He rises to leadership in the home he serves until he is accused of attempted rape by the homeowner’s wife.

In prison, he is forced to start over again with nothing. He rises from the bottom (one could say the “pits” for a second time) to a role of leadership in prison. In his efforts to help his fellow prisoners, he interprets the dreams of two cell mates. His dream interpretations help get him out of prison when Pharaoh needs his dreams interpreted. Pharaoh is so impressed; he makes Joseph a leader of the country. After Joseph marries and has children we see that the names he gives his sons reflect his feelings toward his past and present lives. His first son is named Manasseh – meaning “For God has made me forget all the troubles I endured in my father’s home.” His second son is named Ephraim – meaning “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Gen. 41:51-52)

Like many currently living in Diaspora now, Joseph holds a belief in God…. But, considers his new home – his real home.

Then, after reuniting with his family, he sends them to a different part of Egypt. He continues his Egyptian life away from them.

At the end of this week’s text we learn that Joseph’s loyalty is to his new master, the Pharaoh. Joseph takes the grain and food stuffs from the people during the good growing years. Then, when the famine comes, Joseph SELLS the grain and food back to the people. All the profits going to the rulers of Egypt. When the people run out of money, Joseph trades for animals and land for food. Again, the rulers of Egypt gain at the expense of the population who becomes enslaved to their rulers.

This is not the compassion taught by the Eternal…. This is loyalty to the rulers of the Egypt, Joseph’s superiors. I see that Joseph has become a true Egyptian… not a patriarch of Israel.

So again I ask the question, is Joseph a model for our lives in Diaspora… Or is Joseph a mirror image of what the Jewish population in Diaspora has become in the 21st Century.

Maybe Israel’s history answers this question…. The tribe of Judah is the major tribe. We hear little of the tribes of Joseph – Manasseh or Ephraim.

Earl Sabes

Image “Leadership” courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

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