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Parashat Vayigash - 5776

My friends,

One of the most dramatic stories in the Torah is found in this week's Parasha, Vayigash. Judah walks up to Joseph to demand the release of his brother Benjamin, and that he, Judah, is willing to remain as a slave in Egypt instead of Benjamin, who has been accused of stealing the silver goblet. Joseph cannot hide his identity anymore and declares to his eleven brothers that he is Joseph, the brother they sold 22 years ago into slavery.

It is a very emotional encounter. Joseph cries several times as he hugs and kisses each of the brothers. He tells them that it was G-d who sent him to Egypt in order to save humanity from the famine, and urges his brothers to go to Canaan and bring their father Jacob and the entire family down to Egypt, because there were still five years of famine to follow.

We can understand Jacob's desire to go and see his beloved son, but he is also concerned about leaving Canaan, the Promised Land. G-d appears to Jacob that night and says to him:

"I am G-d, the G-d of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will bring you up." (Genesis 46:3-4)

This is the first incident of the Jewish people leaving Israel and going into exile. Jacob is forced to leave the land because of the famine and because he wants to be with his favorite son. Our history is filled with Jews being exiled from place to place. The major exiles from Israel, in 486 BC and in 70 CE. From Spain in 1492, and countless other exiles from different parts of the world.

How did we survive all those exiles? What kept our Jewish identity even when removed and far away from ancient Israel.

The Midrash explains G-d's words to Jacob:

"I Myself will go down with you and I Myself will come up with you" as if the Shechinah, G-d's presence, is a ladder to be used in going down and coming up. As long as the person keeps the ladder that helped him descend, he/she can come up from the pit with the help of that ladder.

In the thousands of years of exile, the Shechina, G-d's presence, has been by our side. Communities and individuals who kept that ladder nearby were able to keep their attachment to Jewish life no matter how far and how isolated they had been. Our ladder, or the Shechinah, is manifested by the way we participate in our synagogue life, which has replaced the Temple of old, and by the way we conduct ourselves as Jews, descendants of Jacob who experienced the first exile.

Stay near your ladder - Go to a synagogue this Shabbat!

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram