Vayigash

“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayigash 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Transforming Struggles Into Triumphs”

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Parshat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) 

“Transforming Struggles Into Triumphs

In this week’s parsha, Yosef and Yaakov embrace, and Yosef introduces his father, the patriarch of the family, to the most powerful person in the world, to Pharaoh.

And Pharoah is greeting the father of the savior of Egypt, and he asks him:

כמה ימי שני חייך
How old are you? [Genesis 47:8]

And Yaakov gives a protracted answer:

ימי שני מגורי שלשים ומאת שנה מעט ורעים היו
I am one hundred and thirty years old,
but know, Pharaoh, they’ve been challenging years.

ולא השיגו את ימי שני חיי אבותיי בימי מגוריהם
And I have not lived up to the years that my father and grandfather lived up to.
[Genesis 47:9]

The Ramban asks: Why does Yaakov have to complain about God? And in fact, multiple midrashim in multiple locations really suggest that because Yaakov basically complained about God, he’s punished for these additional words. [Da’at Zekenim, citing the Midrash on Genesis 47:8; Midrash, Genesis Rabba 95 (Albeck Edition)]

And, you know, we can understand what Yaakov is saying. After all, Yaakov has an extremely challenging life. Yet Chazal tell us that sometimes from our patriarchs we learn what not to do. And to complain even when there are challenges is not something we are to do.

And therefore, the Ramban questions him, and the Midrash suggests he’s punished.

I am indebted to Rabbi Dr. Dov Lerner of the Young Israel of Jamaica Estates and Yeshiva University for sharing with us the commentary of the Malbim on this verse.

The Malbim, who himself, like Yaakov, went through many challenges throughout his life and therefore really understands how to look at this verse. I mean, the Malbim lost his father at a very young age, he witnessed the breakup of his first marriage, he lost many of his children and watched the mental deterioration of his second wife.

The Malbim interprets this verse, this exchange between Yaakov and Pharaoh in a different fashion.

In his significant commentary on Chumash, he says: You want to know the days of my years, Pharaoh? I’ve lived on this earth one hundred and thirty years, but the years in which I’ve been able to fulfill my potential as a human being in this world, my destiny, have been limited because of my challenges.

Yet, I have struggled to make sure that I can always achieve my greatness despite my challenges. Because ultimately we are not judged by the years we live in this world, but what we have done, even when there are obstacles in the way.

The trick is not only to live, it’s not only to breathe and occupy space in this world, but it’s the ability to live with moments that matter, despite the challenges. The ability for us to create a destiny and be an aspiration, even when there are obstacles.

In my life, I’ve seen this with my father, he should live and be well.

A survivor of cancer twice, experienced the challenges of COVID, a hidden child in the Holocaust, I’ve never heard him complain. He’s not defined by the struggles, but perhaps has used them as a launching pad to fulfill his destiny.

And I witnessed this with the people I have the privilege of working with at Ohr Torah Stone. Despite the fact that, unfortunately, way too many of them have dealt with the challenges of terrorism, they live lives of happiness, lives that are not defined by their challenges, but rather lives that are aspirational.

Ultimately, the next verse really defines it, because at that point, Pharaoh asks him [Yaakov] to bless him, and we’re told:

ויברך יעקב את פרעה
Yaakov blesses Pharaoh. [Genesis 47:10]

Ultimately, it is people who have obstacles in their way but are able to overcome them, that are really the people who are blessings to us. They are blessings because they show us how to live our lives, not just occupying space in this world, but living lives of purpose and meaning.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them unto him together with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be …

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Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes

Reconciliation and the Scars That Remain Rabbanit Dr. Hannah Hashkes is the Director of OTS’s International Halakha Scholars Program The encounter between Yehuda and Yosef described in the beginning of our portion is perceived as the celebrated moment of reconciliation between Yosef and his brothers.  If this is so, why do the brothers express concern of …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayigash 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Secret Signs: Passing on Judaism’s Code of Conduct”

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“Secret Signs: Passing on Judaism’s Code of Conduct”

Is there a mandated moral course of action to take in situations where there is no explicit ruling in the Torah?

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayigash, we find assurances of how this responsibility is part of the Jewish halakhic mandate.

When Yosef reconciles with his brothers, he sends them back home with gifts and food for his father and family – including something which, on the surface, is puzzling:

‎וַיִּתֵּ֨ן לָהֶ֥ם ‎יוֹסֵ֛ף עֲגָל֖וֹת ‎עַל־פִּ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה

Yosef gave them agalot – wagons, or cows, depending on the translation – with the permission of Pharaoh. Genesis 45:21

And when Yaakov sees these agalot and is told that his son, Yosef, is alive, his spirit is revived because of the message these agalot convey. Immediately, Rashi, quoting the Midrash, explains the connection between this gift of agalot and Yaakov’s spirit. Midrash Aggadah, Genesis 45:27

Yosef knew that his father might not believe his brothers when they inform him that he is still alive.

He therefore sent the agalot as a sign, a secret code indicating to his father that he has not forgotten the last topic they studied together before they were separated: the halakhic concept of the “eglah arufah.”

According to the laws of the eglah arufah, residents of a own are supposed to escort visiting guests to the outskirts of the town in order to protect them.

If a traveler is murdered in the area between one town and the next, the town leaders must take responsibility for not keeping him/her safe.

This happens through the medium of the eglah arufah ritual.

On the one hand, sending the agalot to Yaakov is Yosef’s way of telling him that he is, in fact, alive.

But at the same time, it is also Yosef’s way of sending his father an underlying message: perhaps Yaakov is not completely free of responsibility for Yosef’s life of tragedy. After all, Yaakov sent Yosef alone from Hebron to his brothers.

There is also a larger narrative highlighted by Yosef’s gift of the agalot that we MUST extrapolate from the text.

Mentioning the study session between Yaakov and Yosef reminds us that our patriarchs’ and matriarchs’ lives were consumed with discussing ideals that would eventually make up the moral and thical fiber of the Jewish people.

We see this throughout Bereishit.  Another example is in the famous debate between Avraham and God over Sodom and Amorah; Avraham reminds God, “Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” – would not the Creator of the universe want ethics and righteousness to be part of His conduct with Sodom and Amorah? Genesis 18:25

This ethical and moral foundation is emphasized several times within the Book of Bereishit and it is why our Sages call it ספר הישר – “The Book of Righteousness,” for it animates an ethos that will shape Judaism and its worldview. Avodah Zara 25a

Baked into the Jewish tradition is an elastic clause that demands from us to do good and right in all times and in all situations. 

A responsibility to be a moral and ethical people.

When we read the story of the agalot through this prism, we learn that Yosef is sending his father Yaakov an important message. He is saying, “Abba, your lessons were not lost on me. I acted ethically and morally even in Egypt.”

May we merit to successfully pass on our spiritual genetic makeup to future generations and conduct ourselves according to the ethics embedded in Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Shabbat Shalom: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “And Joseph could not hold himself back in front of all who were standing around him… And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph; Is my father still alive?’”(Genesis 45:1-3) Why does Joseph suddenly wake up to his familial ties and reveal …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Insights from Rabbi Kenneth Brander into Torah and Contemporary Life

Parshat Vayigash 5780

Sources cited

  • Genesis 45:3

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 — 47:27)             By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel — “And Joseph went up to greet Israel his father; he fell on his neck and he wept on his neck exceedingly” (Gen. 46:29) In these few words, our Torah describes a dramatic meeting between an aged …

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Yehuda Shtauber, OTS Deputy Director for Education

Parashat Vayigash: “And Yehuda approached him…” What do we learn about how we approach others?  We are living at a time when human culture not only sanctions freedom of expression and freedom of opinion – two prominent, leading values, it even promotes them. Regretfully, this hasn’t resulted in more profound discourse or mutual listening. Yehuda Shtauber, …

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