Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, Chana bat Shmuel, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, Chaya Sarah bat Reb Yechezkel Shraga, Shmuel Yosef ben Reuven, Shayndel bat Mordechai Yehudah, the Kedoshim of Har Nof, Pittsburgh, and Jersey City, and the refuah shlaimah of Mordechai HaLevi ben Miriam Tovah, Yocheved Dafneh bat Dinah Zehavah, and the health and safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
Like many other parshiot, our parasha received its name based upon the first word in the initial phrase of the introductory pasuk: “Vayigash aluv Yehudah,” “And Yehudah drew near to him [Yosef].” (Sefer Bereishit 44:18) The word, vayigash, is found in three other verses in Sefer Bereishit. In each case, it signals a major shift in the narrative and a fundamental change in the pre-existing paradigm.
The first time we encounter vayigash is in the context of Hashem’s plans to destroy S’dom: “Vayigash Avraham (and Avraham drew near) and said, ‘Will You even destroy the righteous with the wicked? … Far be it from You to do a thing such as this, to put to death the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous should be like the wicked. Far be it from You! Will the Judge of the entire earth not perform justice?’” (Sefer Bereishit 18:23, 25, this, and all Torah translations, The Judaica Press Complete Tanach) These verses suggest a fundamental shift in the encounter between Hashem and humankind. For the first time, we were true partners in the I-Thou relationship. As such, Avraham approached Hashem with the conviction that his plea on behalf of S’dom would certainly be heard. He understood, as well, that both the Almighty and humankind are subject to the same Torah-based elements of justice.
The second instance of vayigash is found in the quiet battle for the future of the Jewish people, fought in the privacy of two desert tents: “And Yitzchak loved Eisav... but Rivka loved Ya’akov.” (Sefer Bereishit 25:28) Rivka sought to ensure that the bracha Yitzhak intended to bestow upon Eisav would go to Ya’akov:
And Rivka said to Ya’akov her son, saying, “Behold I have heard your father speaking to Eisav your brother, saying, ‘Bring me game and make me tasty foods, and I will eat, and I will bless you before the L-rd before my death.’ And now my son, hearken to my voice to what I am commanding you.” (Sefer Bereishit 27:6-8)
Once again, vayigash signaled a singular transition that guaranteed the spiritual future of Ya’akov and his descendants:
Vayigash Ya’akov (and Ya’akov drew near) to Yitzchak his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Ya’akov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav.” … “And may the L-rd give you of the dew of the heavens and [of] the fatness of the earth and an abundance of grain and wine. Nations shall serve you and kingdoms shall bow down to you; you shall be a master over your brothers, and your mother's sons shall bow down to you. Those who curse you shall be cursed, and those who bless you shall be blessed.” (27:22, 28-29)
Clearly the power of vayigash could not be more manifest.
The third usage of our term appears within the context of Ya’akov’s first encounter with Rachel. This dramatic moment serves as a pivotal point in Jewish history, as all Jews are ultimately descended from Ya’akov, Rachel, and Leah: “And it came to pass, when Ya’akov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Lavan his mother’s brother, vayigash Ya’akov (and Ya’akov drew near) and rolled the rock off the mouth of the well, and he watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother.” (Sefer Bereishit 29:10) This eventuated in Ya’akov meeting Lavan, marrying Rachel and Leah, and eventually fathering the 12 Tribes of Israel.
The fourth case our term is found at the beginning of our parasha: “Vayigash aluv Yehudah (and Yehudah drew near to Yosef) and said, ‘Please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord’s ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.’” (Sefer Bereishit 44:18) These well-known words are a crucial link in the great chain of events that resulted in the descent of Ya’akov and his family to Egypt, their survival of the worldwide famine, the years of Egyptian servitude, the Exodus from Egypt, the receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and all subsequent Jewish history until our present moment. Once again, the verbal fulcrum for these history-changing events is the deceptively simple word “vayigash.”
Rabbi Nissan Alpert zatzal (1927-1986) was one of the great roshei yeshivah of Yeshivat Rabbi Yitzhak Elhanan. In Limudei Nissan, his posthumous work of Torah analysis, he notes that Yosef revealed himself to his brothers only once they had physically and psychologically drawn close to him. Moreover, he suggests “… it was at that time that it was revealed before them how much they all truly loved one another and that any separation between them should vanish and be replaced by deep and abiding love for one another.” Rav Alpert concludes that: “When all of the Jewish people will dwell together in deep affection and draw near to one another on the profoundest level, and reject division, this closeness we will bring the Geulah (the ultimate redemption, translations my own).” May this time come soon and in our days, v’chane yihi ratzon.
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