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D’var Torah: VaYigash 5784 - The Essence of the Book of Genesis and of the Torah

12/20/2023 08:47:41 AM


Rabbi Rudin

There is no more poignant and beautiful moment in the Torah than this week’s Parsha when Judah opens his heart to his estranged and unrecognized brother, begging for him to release Benjamin who has been framed, and to accept him, Judah, in his stead as a slave.

At that moment, Joseph, who has been struggling between anger and suspicion of the brothers who sold him into slavery with love, can finally let go of his pain. He sees Judah, who was the one directly responsible for his own sale as a slave all those years ago, now offer himself as a slave to free Benjamin, the son of Rachel, just as Joseph himself is the son of Rachel.

All the brothers join Judah and offer themselves as slaves in place of Benjamin.

The words of the Torah are stirring: Joseph could no longer hold back. He wept aloud. Ordering everyone out of the hall, he came before his brothers. I am Joseph! Does my father yet live? Joseph’s brothers are stunned. Joseph says, I am Joseph, your brother whom you sold into Egypt as a slave. But now I finally understand it was G-d who sent me here ahead of you to preserve the world from this famine. Only then could the brothers speak to Joseph. They kissed and wept, embracing.

What is it about this scene and all of life’s moments of forgiveness and reconciliation that is so sweet? Seeing vengeance accomplished may give us a glimpse of some kind of closure, but it is poisoned and bitter. Seeing justice done is better - there is a sense that consequences imposed in accordance with morality and law have the power to bring a tiny measure of peace and solace. But only forgiveness, reconciliation, transformation, the end of enmity and the birth or rebirth of love give us hope.

Judaism is the religion of transformation not through some act of divine grace, but through looking into the eyes of another and seeing a brother, seeing a sister.

Isaac and Ishmael, the estranged brothers and sons of Abraham coming together to bury their father; Jacob and Esau, embracing after over two decades of enmity and distrust and finally this moment between Joseph and his brothers- these are the pinnacle moments of the Book of Genesis. Can there be any doubt what this book, perhaps the greatest in all of world literature, is really all about?

Shabbat Shalom-

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784