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Parashat Vayigash - 5777

Dear friends,

Last week's Parasha ended with the brothers being accused of stealing Joseph's goblet. Since it was found with Benjamin, Joseph decreed that the brothers may return to Canaan, but Benjamin must stay as a slave, since the goblet was found in his possession.

This week's Parasha begins with one of the longest and most heart-rending speeches in the Torah. Judah, the fourth of the brothers, approaches Joseph and begs him to listen to what he has to say. In his pleading for the release of Benjamin he humbles himself by calling himself a servant to Joseph thirteen times, and asks for compassion for his elderly father, using the word 'Avi', my father, fourteen times. He explains to Joseph that Jacob had suffered great tragedies in his life. His beloved wife Rachel died while giving birth to her second son Benjamin. That the older son had been gone and presumed dead, and that if they return home without Benjamin, Jacob will certainly die in great sorrow, because 'Nafsho Keshura beNafsho', 'since his own life (Jacob's) is so bound with his own life (Benjamin's)'. Judah offers to remain in Egypt as Joseph's servant and Benjamin should be allowed to return with the brothers to his father.

Judah's words penetrated Joseph's heart and he could no longer control himself. He ordered all his attendants to leave the room, so that there were no strangers when he revealed to his brothers that he was their brother Joseph. He said to them:

"'I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?' But the brothers could not answer him, because they were so dumbfounded before him." (Genesis 45:3)

Although there are many commentaries on the confrontation between Joseph and Judah, from the reading of the text it would seem that Judah's humility and the appeal to Joseph to show compassion to a suffering, elderly human being were the reasons for Joseph to break down and reveal his true identity.

Our sages find another important teaching from this story. They say: "Woe unto us from the day of judgment. If the brothers were so dumbfounded when Joseph, who was a mere mortal, said, 'I am Joseph', what will be our reaction when, on the Day of Judgment, The Holy One Blessed be He, says, 'I am G-d'?" What will be our reaction?

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram