Food For the Soul
No time to weep
The Parsha Vayigash relates the story of Joseph’s dramatic reunion with his brothers. Though he embraces them all, he reserves his deepest emotions for his only full brother, Benjamin. Joseph was separated from his brothers when Benjamin was a mere child, and Benjamin was the only one who was not involved in the plot against Joseph. Theirs was, therefore, an exceptional embrace: Rashi, quoting the Talmud, explains that for both brothers, their cries were, beyond the powerful feelings of the moment, nothing short of prophetic. Joseph wept over the two Temples of Jerusalem, destined for destruction, which were in the land apportioned to the tribe of Benjamin. And Benjamin cried over the Sanctuary at Shilo, located in the land apportioned to the tribe of Joseph, which would also be destroyed. The question is why: are they each crying over the other’s churban (destruction)? Why do they not cry over their own destructions?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that when it comes to someone else’s problem, we may be able to help but we cannot solve other people’s problems. Even good friends can only do so much. We can offer generous assistance, support and the best advice in the world, but the rest is up to him or her. So, if we are convinced that we have done our absolute best for the other person and have still failed to bring about a satisfactory resolution, the only thing we can do is shed a tear. We can pray for them, we can be sympathetic. Beyond that, there is really nothing else we can do. When we have tried and failed, all we can do is cry.
But when it comes to our own problems and challenges, our own churban, there we dare not settle for a good cry. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up and weeping. If it is our problem, then it is our duty to confront it again and again until we make it right. For others we can cry; but for ourselves we must act.
If it’s your problem, confront it, deal with it, work at it. You’ll be surprised by the results.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Sanctification of the Moon
Once a month, as the moon waxes in the sky, we recite a special blessing called Kiddush Levanah, “the sanctification of the moon,” praising the Creator for His wondrous work we call astronomy.
Kiddush Levanah is recited after nightfall, usually on Saturday night. The blessing is concluded with songs and dancing, because our nation is likened to the moon—as it waxes and wanes, so have we throughout history. When we bless the moon, we renew our trust that very soon, the light of G-d’s presence will fill all the earth and our people will be redeemed from exile.
Mind Over Matter
Influence your environment
Joseph did not merely resist the harmful influences of Egyptian society. Nor did he timorously live in hermit-like seclusion to avoid being adversely influenced. Quite the contrary: he exerted a powerful and beneficial influence on the Egyptians, as we clearly see in the Parsha Vayigash. Many people live, like Joseph, exposed to harmful influences. Some resist the bad influences and remain unaffected by them. The best approach to resist the evil influences of the environment is when the individual works in and on society to change it and elevate it to his own level. It is he who then affects his environment. This is the perfect approach, for if one has the strength to upgrade the standards of his society, no influence can bring him down from his spiritual plane.
From an article by Rabbi Yitschak Meir Kagan
“. . . fear not to go down to Egypt . . . I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” Vayigash 46:3-4
Jacob was not sent to the galut (exile) on his own: the Almighty descended with him and guarded him there. Our patriarch Jacob possessed an all-comprehensive soul which compounded the souls of all Jews. “Jacob” thus stands for every single Jew, and his descent to Egypt alludes to Israel’s descent into galut, including the present galut. The Almighty is with us, as it is said, “Wherever they were exiled, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is with them” (Megilah 29a). Moreover, “In all their affliction, He is afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). He Himself suffers their affliction, as it were. Thus, just as Israel is unable to bear the affliction of the galut, so, too, as it were, with the Almighty. Surely, then, He shall hasten the redemption, for as we leave the galut so will He, as stated in our text, “I will also bring you up again.”
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
A lesson before Hebrew school
My whole family had sat down for lunch when the driver of the school van peeked through the door. This was a common occurrence in my house; we had Hebrew school that day. In order for the driver not to needlessly drive to a student who wasn’t going to school, parents would notify us and we would pass the information to the driver. “Oh, yes! Nancy called and said the kids are not coming today,” I answered promptly. “Oh, really?” asked my father, glad to see that I was “responsible” enough to be part of the family communal work and relieved at the same time because Nancy’s house was the farthest away, and I had saved the driver a big shlep by notifying him before. I was 8 or 9 at the time.
The only thing my father didn’t know was that a few days earlier, I had had a fight with Nancy’s daughter and didn’t want to see her again at Hebrew school, so I thought that I had found a good solution. Just one little lie can’t do much damage, I thought. But it could.
As soon as all the kids arrived at school, Nancy called my father, complaining that the school van never came to pick up her kids. It didn’t take long for him to realize what I’d done. I still remember his words and the shame I felt right there, next to the ping-pong table. “Because of you, two Jewish kids are not learning Torah today!” he rebuked me.
Nancy and her kids never knew the real reason for the incident; my father apologized and sent the driver back to their house. Nancy’s kids and I are friends to this day. Many years later, I reminded my father of that episode, but he absolutely doesn’t recall anything like it.
I don’t know if my father expected me to understand the importance of Jewish education, but I do know that that was one of the strongest lessons I ever learned.
The everlasting message of Parshat Vayigash, is similar. The opening sentence begins, “Judah approached Joseph.” Jacob and his family lived peacefully in the Land of Israel until a great famine came and compelled the sons to go down to Egypt for food. Joseph, a son of Jacob sold into slavery by his own brothers, had risen to become second to the king and had storehouses of food, enabling the economy to survive and even prosper.
Jacob had sent his 10 sons to Egypt, but was insistent on keeping Benjamin, the youngest boy, at home. Joseph and Benjamin were the children of his beloved and deceased wife Rachel. Jacob had already lost Joseph, who was presumed dead, and dared not let his remaining son from Rachel be in any danger.
When the sons arrived in Egypt, Joseph recognized them, but they did not recognize him. In exchange for food, Joseph demanded that they first bring their brother Benjamin—an extremely hard task. Jacob could not bear the separation, and he would literally die if he would not see Benjamin again. “I guarantee his safe return, Father. Otherwise, I will have sinned to you all my life,” Judah said decisively. The shelves were empty, and after persuasion and promises, the brothers brought Benjamin down to the king. After a meal at the palace and after filling their sacks with all their needs, the brothers headed back home. Joseph instructed a servant to put a silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack, accusing him of stealing. He was found guilty, and as punishment was to remain in the palace as a slave, while all the other brothers were free to go back to their families. At that crucial moment, Judah had no doubts. Something needed to be done—and fast. He was ready to do anything for his brother; he was prepared to fight a war against the whole country, and even threatened to kill the king and his viceroy if necessary, ready to sacrifice his own life for Benjamin. Why did only Judah take a stance and approach Joseph with all his might? “Because I’m responsible for him,” Judah told Joseph. Well, we are called Jews after Judah.
Be responsible for a Jewish kid. Be responsible for your own kid. No one else will be. Be ready to fight for him. Be Jewish.