Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayigash December 20, 2012

“AND JUDAH STEPPED FORWARD.” With these words this week’s Torah ushers us into one of the most dramatic events in Jewish history – the reunion of Joseph and his brothers. It is of paramount importance that it is JUDAH – YEHUDAH who takes the initiative at this juncture of the unfolding story.

We have learned from our Sages that within the Torah is contained all of human history, all of Hashem’s plan for His people and for the entire world. It is no coincidence that the Haftorah for this week is found in Ezekiel, chapter 37, the prophet’s vision of the joining of the two sticks.
While there is more than one interpretation that can validly be derived from this portion of Ezekiel’s vision, I would like to address only one.

On one stick, the prophet was told to inscribe the name of Judah and his children. On the other, the name of Joseph, the house of Ephraim and his children. Then the prophet was to take the two sticks, join them together and make them “one nation in the earth in the mountains of Israel, and one king will be over all of them as King, and they will no longer be two nations and they will no longer be split into two kingdoms. And my servant David will be king over them and one shepherd will be for them all [King Mashiach]. And they will walk in My Torah and guard My statutes and do them. And they will dwell in the land that I have given to My servant Jacob in which your fathers dwelled, and they and their children and children’s children will dwell upon it forever, and David My servant will be Prince to them forever. And I will cut for them a Covenant of Peace, an eternal Covenant will be for them. And I will give them and multiply them and I will put My Holy Temple within them forever. And My Dwelling will be upon them and I will be G-d for them, and they will be My People. And the Nations will know that I am HaShem who sanctifies Israel that My Sanctuary should be among them forever “ (Ezekiel 37:28).

This is an extremely powerful passage in Tanach and one which cannot be ignored. The encounter in our parshah between Judah and Joseph is the paradigm for the future joining between the two aspects of the descendants of Jacob in this world. We understand Judah – the Jews. But who is Ephraim? Who are ‘his children’ who are also inscribed on the stick?

The so-called ‘Lost Tribes’ of the northern kingdom of Israel which was also called ‘Ephraim’ were dispersed centuries ago after being conquered by the Assyrians. They fled north, south, east and west and as surely as any other nation’s descendants that spread across the globe, they are scattered around the world to this day, many of them utterly unaware that they are descended from Jacob’s family – grandchildren a hundred times over of one of the ten sons of Jacob. But in the depth of their souls, a spark still burns. The prophecy assures us that in the end of days those sparks will be fanned into living flames and in a way beyond our understanding, Hashem Himself will re-unite Judah’s sons with Joseph’s sons and great will be that Redemption!

Another of the many profound lessons encoded in this week’s Torah portion is the principle Joseph himself teaches all of us. After revealing himself to his brothers, it is Joseph himself who provides them with the insight to change their perception of the past. “It was not you sent me here but G-d” (Gen. 45:8) — “for sustenance G-d sent me before you” (ibid. v. 5).

In all circumstances, understanding that all the various humans who surround us are in reality agents of G-d, Who is behind and within all phenomena, is one of the main keys to understanding our personal situation in the world.

All of us have stumbled in at least one or more ways: perhaps in a marriage, a divorce, problems with our children, finances, career, or whatever. But the point of life’s journey isn’t whether or not we’ve fallen down; it’s whether or not we’ve learned how to get back up and keep going. Everyone falls because we live in a fallen world! It’s the ones who get up, brush themselves off, learn from their fall and move on that make a difference in this world. That is the very lesson Joseph wanted his brothers to learn.

In Tune with Torah this week: Resolve to stop nursing guilt over the past. Ask God to forgive you if you haven’t already, forgive yourself for the things you regret, and embrace a new season of life as Jacob and his entire family did by going down to Goshen. Inject some fresh enthusiasm into your life and choose joy when you wake up in the morning. As Bonnie Raitt sang “Life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

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