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Parashat Vayigash - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the Parasha of Vayigash. Last week's Parasha ended with the brothers being brought back before Joseph, who alleged that someone had stolen Joseph's special goblet. Since it was found in Benjamin's sack, Joseph rules that Benjamin will remain in Egypt as his slave, while the other brothers can return to Canaan and bring food to their families. Given that Judah is the one who had promised his father Jacob that he would be responsible for the safe return of Benjamin, he walks up to Joseph (Vayigash) and what ensues is one of the most dramatic encounters in the entire story of Joseph and his brothers, and one of the longest and most beautiful speeches in the Bible.

Judah appeals to Joseph to stick to the facts. That they would never have brought Benjamin with them, if not that Joseph had insisted that they must bring Benjamin to prove that they were not spies. And he had warned them that without Benjamin they will not be allowed to enter Egypt to buy food. Judah explains to Joseph that Jacob allowed Benjamin to join the brothers only after Judah had convinced his father that he would personally guarantee his safe return, and that they will die if they don't go to buy food.

Judah offered to remain as Jospeh’s slave, and that Benjamin and the rest of the brothers should be allowed to return to their homes. At this point, the Torah tells us that Joseph could no longer control himself. He says to his brothers: "I am Joseph. Is my father alive?" But his brothers could not answer him because they were dumbfounded (shocked) on account of him.

I would like to share with you a beautiful commentary from Midrash Rabbah on this last verse:

Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah said: "Woe to us in the day of judgment, and woe to us in the day of rebuke. Joseph was but mere flesh and blood; yet when he rebuked his brothers they could not withstand his rebuke. How much less then will man of flesh and blood be able to withstand the rebuke of the Holy One, blessed be He, who is Judge and Prosecutor, and who sits on the Throne of Judgment and judges every single person!"

Two words: "Ani Yoseph" - "I am Joseph". Two powerful words with all that they imply. Two words that were enough to bring back in the hearts of the brothers so much shame, guilt and remorse.

We are all going to face our Maker one day. When G-d says, "Ani Adonay" - "I am the L-rd" - will we be able to still stand straight? Will we feel that we lived an exemplary life of kindness and good deeds?

Keeping in mind that we will all, someday, hear those two words should stir us to do the right things in all our dealings with G-d and humans.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram