Saturday, December 18, 2004

I-11 Vayigash Do you Have a Father?

I-11 Vayigash Do you Have a Father? 18 December 2004

Vayigash Genesis 44:18- 47:27 "And he drew near" 17 Dec 04

Haftorah : Ez 37:15-28

1.Gn 44:18-30 4. Gn 41:52-42:18
2. Gn 41:15-38 5. Gn 42:19-43:15
3. Gn 41:39-52 6. Gn 43:16-29
7. Gn 43:30:44:17


Vayigash opens with Judah confronting Joseph in Egypt and the grief Jacob has borne on his behalf as a lost son. Joseph unable to restrain his own emotions, dismisses his servant from the room to reveal his identity to his brothers. He reassures Judah that the past is forgiven and through his enslavement, he is able to redeem his family now suffering from the hardship of famine. Reconciliation of brothers is made through divine providence.

In Focus:
Then Judah went up to him and said, "Please my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are nthe equal of Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, "Have you a father or another brother?" Genesis 44:18-88-89

The famine spreads throughout the region. Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy provisions for their families, bringing with them Benjamin with Judah's pledge of safety. Judah has matured through the years, no longer willing to abandon a person in danger. Confronted with the strange Vizier, he is given an opportunity to prove himself. Repentance is more than regretting past deeds and wrongdoings, it goes the step beyond. True teshuvah (repentance) is when the person is confronted with a similar opportunity and choice for doing the wrong thing, but refuses. It's not that a diabetic announces, "Doc, I admit it. I ate German Chocolate cake last week and that sent my blood sugar soaring," but the person regrets the action to such an extent that he turns away from repeating it.

Judah finds himself against the wall with the demands of the strange Vizier. After years of practiced deceit, he still feels the betrayal of Joseph deeply. Unable to bear the burden of conscience any longer, he confronts the wrongdoing of the past with the plaintive response, "Do you have a father?" The response is spontaneous—Of course, who doesn't. What kind of question is that? I wasn't hatched out of an egg, you know. Betraying his grief, he recollects the previous encounter with Joseph, recounting verbatim their conversation. Judah steps forward to pledge his own life for the sake of his half-brother. He has learned the bitterness of sibling rivalry and tasted the sharpness of loss. He cannot be like Reuben, willing to kill his own sons in retaliation for the loss of Benjamin if he should be taken captive. Judah has suffered the loss of his sons and knows a father's grief, not only from the sorrow of Jacob, but through the death of his own sons.

The question oversteps the bounds of a commercial bargain. It challenges the Vizier to consider his own life and parental relationships. It changes the conversation from haggling over goods to intimacy. "Do you have a father?" points to the irreplaceable value of human life. The relationships between children and parents are interdependent. Jacob awaits the return of his sons and the welfare of his family is dependent on their mission—but Judah also recognizes that the spiritual welfare of the family is dependent on their father's well-being. The loss of Benjamin will ultimately destroy the clan with the father's grief. Someone must step forward and assume responsibility and leadership in the time of crisis.

Joseph's challenge is accepted and refuted. Unable to hide his own grief any longer, Joseph reveals his identity as the lost brother, reassuring them that they have nothing to fear from the past. What is done, is done. Instead, he tells them, "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... Now hurry back to my father and say to him: Thus says your son Joseph, "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down without delay..."

Genesis 45:5-9

Occassionally, reports appear in the news regarding lost souls that re-emerge into the living world that have been thought dead for decades: a soldier gone AWOL in the Korean War, relatives re-united after the Berlin Wall. Midrash relates a story to the Garden of Paradise:

Once there was a King who had a son. In his castle was a beautiful garden. The trees bent whenever his son approached when he wanted some fruit. Anything that his son needed, it was provided. Clothes from the finest textiles, wrought with lovely embroidery—but the son, accustomed to having everything became thankless. He presumed that the world was his for the having and so offended his father by his ingratitude. In response, the King sent him out into the world beyond the walls, where he had to sweat and labor in the fields with the peasants in order to survive. Nettles stung his shins and thistles pricked his hands as he learned the intensive drudgery of planting and harvesting barley. Years went by, and the son, accustomed now to the rough clothes of the farmer, celebrated successful harvests and blessed the wine set before him. One day, a meseenger came, calling him back to the parental spread—

Upon his return, the son fell was overwhelmed with the goodness and wealth of his father's estate. The story of Joseph and his brothers is that of our own lives. The King awaits our home-coming.

I-10 Miketz The Brothers' guilt before Joseph
Genesis 42: 13-24
Joseph demands the presence of Benjamin which reawakens the past for the brothers

I-10 Miketz Judah pledges himself
Genesis 43: 1-9
Judah accepts responsibility for past, present and future , pledging his own life for Benjamin

I-9 Vayeishev Joseph sold into slavery
Genesis 37: 1-35
Sibling rivalry and contention between Leah and Rachel prompt the ambush of Joseph and selling him into slavery when the first camel train passes by

I-9 Vayeishev Judah and Tamar
Genesis 38: 1-26
Judah finds himself confronted with his past refusal to provide Tamar with marriage and support, condemning her as a whore, he finds himself humiliated for his own rash actions.


Do You have a Father?
rabbi Joseph B Soloveichik
Discusses the concept of fatherhood—what kind of question is that? Everyone has a father.

Kolel, Vayigash 17-18 Dec 04
Discussion of Rashi's commentary regarding the gifts sent to his father
provides links to go and study, including "What's bothering Rashi?"

Dvar Torah, Vayigash: Is he still my father?
rabbi Label Lam

Dvar Torah, Vayigash: Family Values
rabbi Dovid Green

Feeling Another's Pain
rabbi David Rosenfeld

Avoiding Confrontation and Responsibility
rabbi Shimon Felix Halacha Teshuvah (Repentance)
discussion on choice between good and evil and repentance of wrongdoing


Blogger Alex said...

What do you think, please, of Obadiah Shoher's interpretation of the story? (here: ) He takes the text literally to prove that the brothers played a practical joke on Yosef rather than intended to murder him or sell him into slavery. His argument seems fairly strong to me, but I'd like to hear other opinions.

3:46 PM  

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