Rimon new logo  


Parashat Vayigash- It Takes Two    



Dedicated toNelson Mandela. May his soul rise to the highest heights.  


Like Joseph, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and when released, rose up to the highest office of his country, transformed the land and saved his people. Like Joseph, he forgave his oppressors and forged a new relationship with them outside of the dynamic of victim and oppressor. He stated:


People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.


As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.


*     *     *


This week's Torah portion opens with the verse: Vayigash elav Yehudah,vayomer bi adoni- literally translated as: Judah approached (Joseph) and said, Please My Lord...

This is the beginning of a speech in which Judah begs Joseph the viceroy to take him as a slave in place of his brother Benjamin.

In order to appreciate this opening we must first appreciate who Judah is.


Judah is the brother who brings forth the idea of selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites. He is responsible for Joseph's descent into Egypt. Judah is also the brother whose personal story in connection with Tamar is interspersed through the Joseph narrative. Judah denies the rights of his daughter-in-law Tamar, but then recognizes his misdeeds. He takes responsibility for Tamar and makes things right. Traditionally he is seen as a ba'al teshuvah. Judah represents the capacity for personal transformation, the strength to own the truth about himself and to support justice, even if it means personal embarrassment.

It is after these events that Judah is able to take responsibility for and ensure the life of his brother Benjamin, something he was unable to do for Joseph.

He demonstrates his teshuvah/his personal transformation through his willingness to give over his life in exchange for Benjamin's freedom.

By doing so, he calls Joseph out from his disguise.


Vayigash elav Yehudah- Judah comes close to Joseph.

The Or HaHayyim asks the question: Why is this phrase needed?

We know that Judah was standing close to Joseph when he spoke to him.

Or Hahayyim explains: he drew close to him within his heart. Drew close to this Egyptian viceroy who held their lives in his hands. He drew close (to him) in his heart, truly loving him, so as to arouse compassion within him.

"As face answers to face in water, so does one man's heart to another." 

(Prov. 27:19)


The Vitebsker Rebbe teaches on this, that we have in all situations the possibility of discovering an aspect of ourselves. Judah did not know this was Joseph. Yet, he found a way to bring his heart near to this man, who was his oppressor. When Judah states- bi Adoni- he is really saying "My Lord is in me". You are in me. I am connected to you and you to me in a most essential way.


Last fall, Antionette Tuff, a bookkeeper at an elementary school in Georgia did just this when she talked down a gunman who had entered her school intent on mass murder and suicide. She opened her heart to this would be assassin. She listened to his story and amazingly, felt compassion for him in the midst of a terrifying reality. She communicated that compassion to him and miraculously was able to disarm him on every level, saving his life, her own, and that of hundreds of children.


In an interview after the event she explained that she anchored herself in God and that she saw the face of her own handicapped son in the face of this man! She saw his wounds and felt his pain. She shared her struggles with him and gave him hope. She connected her heart to his and a miracle occurred. He put down his weapons. And harmed no one.


While Antionette Tuff was able to cause a casting off of the armor and weapons of her assailant, we are not necessarily heroes like her.

Yet, we can, in the simple and also complicated relationships of our own lives, seek out the common root; search for that which connects us,

even if it is our shared failings.


Let us withdraw our projections rather than rationalize our judgments against others. Most often our judgments serve only to make us feel superior in some way and feed a culture of alienation.


Vayigash Yehudah bi Adoni- And Judah came close and said, You are in me.

Your struggles are my struggles.

Your failings are mine as well.


Judah- the forefather of mashiach (the Messiah) and symbol of redemption is not only the ba'al teshuvah- the one who repents for his actions with Tamar and for his his actions against Joseph, he is the one who finds a way to connect his heart, even with his oppressor. He finds the Divine root of compassion in himself and he arouses it in Joseph, thus bringing about a casting off of the disguise, of Joseph's armor. And a flood of tears emerges from Joseph's heart.


Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone withdraw from me!" So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear..." (Gen. 45:1-2)


In this Torah portion we see that it takes two to bring about a true healing.

Joseph is disarmed and thus he too, like Judah, is able to step outside of himself, out of his own ego and see the bigger picture. He responds to Judah:


Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you...God has sent me ahead me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.

(Gen. 45: 5, 7)


Throughout this portion, Joseph states this idea three times.

He affirms that nothing is as it seems when viewed from the largest consciousness. Joseph humbles himself before God and his brothers. He does not cling to the personal wrong perpetrated against him. He sees the divine plan, the divine hand in his life. And he is therefore able to forgive. Both Joseph and Judah are able to transcend their personal egos and pain for the sake of the greater good.


Torah teaches that healing from painful interpersonal conflict is possible.

Torah teaches that the potential for redemption is in our hands and hearts to do it. It takes 2 elements:


The Judah principle: An expanded heart: I recognize my responsibility for all my brothers, and I am able to connect my heart with others who are also in pain, even if they appear as my oppressor, when really they are my brother.


The Joseph principle: An expanded consciousness: I do not need to see myself as a victim. Rather, I can let go of my personal wound because I understand that on some level, I am a participant in a story greater than my own personal wound. By connecting to the greater mystery of the unfolding of life, I can serve in the process of that greater redemption.


As Nelson Mandela once said, " A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."


Vayigash elav Yehudah: And Judah came close... to his brother Joseph- whom he had wronged. Though he didn't know he was his brother, he came close anyway.

He said, Bi Adoni- My Lord is in me. You are in Me.

We are all brothers and sisters, thinly disguised as strangers. 

Can we transcend the roles of victim and oppressor. Can we see through the veils? And even if we cannot, can we, like Judah, still come close and recognize that You are in ME, as I am in You?



Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman, Director 

Rimon Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality