Sunday, December 23, 2007

Parashas Vayigash

The parashah begins with Yehudah approaching Yosef to plead that he be accepted as a substitute for Binyamin who had been arrested for theft. Ramban questions why the Torah finds it necessary to recount the details of Yehudah’s retelling of a story that had already appeared in parashas Miketz and suggests that Yehudah was attempting to somehow arouse compassion in Yosef so that he might agree to the substitution. The Targum Yerushalmi gives us a different spin on Yehudah’s monologue suggesting that Yehudah was threatening Yosef and retold the story to impress upon the Egyptian viceroy just how far he was prepared to take things to protect his brother.

I would like to suggest a third approach, based on what we quoted from Reb Tzaddok ha-Kohen and the Netziv regarding the confrontation between Yosef and Yehudah and the long term implications vis-a-vis the leadership of klal Yisrael. As we noted previously, Yosef suspected that his brothers were not always consistent in their beliefs about hashgachah pratis and its application to them. A life based on a relationship that transcends nature demands much more from the practitioner than a lifestyle based on a hashgachah klalis relationship; i.e., the more direct G-d’s intervention, the more that is expected of you. Much of Yosef’s criticism that he had brought to his father’s attention was based on his perception that the brothers were not as “frum” as they should be given the way that they interpreted their relationship to Hashem - an allegation that they resented and for which they bore him great animosity.

As we have seen, Yehudah had convinced his brothers to throw Yosef into the pit precisely to teach him that they were living under hashgachah klalis and we can assume that given the linked chain of events that brought Yosef to power in Egypt, he had gotten the message.

Concurrently, Yosef decided to test his brothers appreciation of hashgachah pratis through a series of linked events. How would they interpret that having being sent to Egypt for food they had been singled out to meet with the viceroy, accused of being spies, watched helplessly as Shimon - the most volatile of them - was separated from them, were seated at the royal table according to their ages which they had not revealed, were questioned relentlessly about their father, were ordered to bring their little brother or nothing would be sold to them and then witnessed the set-up of arresting Binyamin? Would they maintain that this was happenstance or hashgachah pratis? And if they saw it as hasgachah pratis, would they make the connection to the fact that they had sold Yosef into slavery? We might assume that Yosef was prepared to relinquish sovereignty to Yehudah; i.e., admit that Yehudah’s approach was correct. However, he was only prepared to do so if Yehudah was consistent in this belief and accepted the ramifications. He therefore waited to see, how Yehudah would react.

It would seem that Yehudah understood that this was a test even if he did not know that it was being administered by Yosef. In parashas Miketz the brothers already give voice to the link between the events that are transpiring and the sale of Yosef and their lack of mercy. Perhaps we can view Yehudah’s long opening monologue as a sort of vidui - which requires him to not only have remorse but also to recount his sins. In parashas Miketz he had only obliquely mentioned that there had once been another brother, here he specifically mentions the anguish of his father of losing both of the sons born to his favored wife, an exceedingly hard statement for yehudah to make to a stranger. But when he does so, Yosef sees that he is sincere and can therefore reveal himself to his brothers.

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