Parashat Vayigash

Friday, December 10, 2021/6 Tevet, 5782
Parashat Vayigash Genesis 44:18−47:27

Dear Friends,

There are a few moments in the Torah overflowing with courage and vulnerability. One of them occurs in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash. Joseph’s eleven brothers stand before him, unaware that he is the brother they once sold into slavery. As viceroy of Egypt, Joseph enjoys considerable power. When Joseph voices his intention to keep their youngest brother, Benjamin, in Egypt as his slave, the other brothers are understandably worried.

At the beginning of Vayigash, Judah approaches Joseph to plead for his mercy. “Please,” Judah said, “let [me] remain in the place of the lad and let [Benjamin] go home with my brothers.” (Genesis 44:33) Judah was willing to sacrifice himself to protect Benjamin’s freedom.

Joseph could no longer contain his emotions after witnessing Judah’s selfless act. Joseph had wanted to reveal himself to his brothers for some time, and it was painful to be in their presence while they had no idea who he was. When Judah bravely approached him, Joseph could no longer restrain himself. “Send everyone away from me!” Joseph cried. He ensured that every Egyptian had left; Joseph was alone with his brothers for the first time in decades.

Joseph could have chosen to reveal his identity in the presence of the Egyptians, who were there to protect him. Joseph was understandably afraid of what his brothers might do once he revealed himself. They might strike or kill him out of fear that Joseph intended to retaliate against them. They might be angry with him for what he had just put them through or choose to kill him to keep their misdeeds towards Joseph a secret.

Despite the considerable risks, Joseph chose to send away every Egyptian for one reason, explains Rabbeynu Bachya, he did not wish to shame his brothers. Joseph did not want the Egyptians to know what they had once done to him, which might put them in danger in the future. Instead, he modeled integrity, courage, and forgiveness.

Because Joseph had once been othered, demonized, and tortured, he was determined to offer a better alternative. He channeled his energy into compassion, looking out for the needs and well-being of his brothers who stood before him. Martin Luther King Jr. once taught, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Joseph inspires us to live with integrity and compassion, not just when it is easy to do so, but even when it takes incredible courage and vulnerability.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Cassi Kail