” Vayigash: And Judah drew near to him..”(Genesis 44:18), With this phrase we begin one of the more dramatic portions of Torah. This is the climax, in a sense, of the Joseph cycle for it is in this passage that we have the big reveal. Judah in a sense, pleads with Joseph to have mercy as he recounts the story of the brothers’ travels back to their land and the fact that if they do not return to that land with Benjamin “Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father”. (44.34) It is this speech by Judah that breaks down Joseph and allows him to reveal himself to his brothers and ask, as a son may do, “Ha’od Avi Chai?” Is my father still well?” (45:3)
Commentators look at this portion in many ways. One of the interesting approaches to this is to look at the very first word, “vayigash”. In the translations we read “and Judah drew near” or “Judah went up to him” The Hebrew reads “Vayigash aylov Yehudah”. Some commentators see this text as really speaking to the issue of Judah drawing near to his own self. Judah’s speech to Joseph, which focuses on the young Benjamin and the impact of loss on the aging Jacob is seen as a point of emotional and spiritual growth for Judah. His plea on behalf of his father, and Joseph’s, sees , as some have mentioned, a growth in Judah. He realizes the impact of loss and what his actions of years before, if replicated by allowing for another of Jacob’s sons to be lost, could mean to his father. All of a sudden, he grows into a compassionate man. By drawing near to his own soul, he matures spiritually.
We saw a similar interpretation with Genesis 12 and the opening words: “Lech L’cha”. Here too some commentators have remarked that we become free to move forward when we go into our own self. Is that replicated here with Judah? Is his plea for Benjamin and his father the trigger that matures Judah and triggers Joseph’s revelation of his true identity? Is Torah trying to tell us that only when we are honest with our own self can we truly reveal our true self and soul?
This is a challenging season of the year. The secular year is just over the horizon and often, we may find ourselves in reflection over the year that has passed. Not unlike Rosh Hoshonnah, we may wonder who we really are and what do we really wish for in the coming year. Perhaps Judah’s open honesty can provide a text to remind us that to be true to our own soul and self we need to accept who we are, celebrate that truth and draw near to that reality. Acceptance of self, especially as we age, can be liberating and may reveal, as Joseph, long repressed and buried truths.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.