Weekly Torah Commentary — Vayigash December 5, 2013

Beresheit/Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

This week’s Torah reading highlights several dramatic reunions between Joseph and his family. Taking a close look at the actions and attitudes of the people involved will yield valuable lessons for us.

The most powerful of all the reunions was clearly that of Joseph with his father Jacob. Yaakov surely felt indescribable joy at seeing his beloved son after twenty two years of separation, having believed that Joseph was no longer alive. What did Yaakov do when he finally saw Joseph? Rashi tells us that he said the Shema. He expressed his great connection to God at this joyous time. Instead of focusing purely on the joy of seeing his son, he directed his praise to the One who had sustained him to this magnficent day – the God Jacob loved. The most striking fact about Jacob’s action is that, even on an occasion of such great natural emotion, he strove to connect all his natural joy God-ward.

The Torah writes further that Joseph acted very differently in this same reunion. The Torah states: “Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father, to Goshen; and he appeared to him, fell on his neck, and he wept on him excessively.” Rashi explains the clause, “and he appeared to him,” to mean that Joseph approached this reunion with only one intent – to provide his father with as much joy as possible in being reunited with his son. He disregarded his own desire to see his father at that moment of reunion, and his single goal was to provide his father with as much joy as possible. We see from this explanation that Joseph had a very different intent from his father in this joyful reunion. Jacob focused purely on his connection with God at this time, whereas Joseph concentrated on the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents to the greatest degree possible. The common denominator between the two was that the intent of both was purely to do what they perceived to be God’s will at this time. This shows a tremendous level of constant awareness of God and a permanent desire to do his will, even at the height of one’s own natural emotions.

We have seen the great righteousness of Jacob and Joseph in how they conducted themselves at the height of their emotions. This demonstrates their constant sense of connecting to God and doing His will. Whilst their level seems unattainable for us, there are a number of ways in which we can strive to emulate them in our daily lives.

At times of great joy, we are taught to direct our happiness to God. For example, on the occasion of the birth of a child we say the blessing of “Shehechiyanu”. At a time of great joy, such as a wedding, the bride and groom are urged to think about their guests and not just about themselves. At such a time, one can easily become totally absorbed in his own joy and not notice other people. Yet this is an apt time to make the guests and well-wishers feel good by showing appreciation for their participation in our joyous event.

In Tune with Torah this week = May we all strive to emulate the great personalities in the Torah, by serving God with our whole hearts and with great joy, even at times of great emotion.

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