Hebraic Studies - Parashat Vayigash

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Parashat Vayigash

Bereshit - Genesis chapters 43:18 to 47:27.


With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

This Torah portion contains the dramatic reunion of Yoseyf - Joseph and his brothers. In this story Yehudah - Judah pleads in behalf of Binyamin - Benjamin, who has been framed by Yoseyf, by offering himself instead. Yoseyf is unable to control himself, sends his servants out of the room, and forgives his brothers. He tells them not to worry about what they did to him so many years ago. It was, he states, to do Elohim’s will that he was sent into slavery in Egypt. Finally the brothers are able to speak and they hug and kiss each other, crying over the remarkable turn of events. And Yoseyf orders them as follows:

“Hasten ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him: Thus saith thy son Yoseyf: Elohim hath made me lord of all Egypt; come down unto me, tarry not” Bereshit - Genesis 45:9 (JPS version of the Torah).

Yoseyf sends them back to their father in order to bring him and the tribe back to Egypt. We could wonder, why Yoseyf did not go with them to see his father after those long 20 years? Of course there are two possibilities to explain his motivation for the elaborate test he creates for his brothers.

1. He wanted to exact revenge and so the thought of throwing his brothers in jail was too tempting to avoid. Or, 2. Yoseyf wanted to test his brothers to see if they had indeed repented. The second option is of course the explanation tradition favours. The only way to see if someone has made “Teshuvah shleymah”, a “complete repentance”, is to test them by the exact same situation. Only if you say no to the same temptation that before you said yes to, do we know that you have changed.

But rarely do we find ourselves in this same circumstance. And so how do we know if a person has truly repented and completely changed? 

Judaism fundamentally believes that people can change. It is a matter of first admitting the wrong.  And then asking forgiveness of those we have wronged. Then we must resolve to change. At some point we will be tested by the same circumstances. In that moment we will discover if we have indeed changed. Thus, I fully believe that those who make errors, no matter how great, but if they were one in faith, and are willing to return with all their heart and soul that they can genuinely change and be fully restored as a faithful Jew!

But changing ourselves is in some ways the easier task. Allowing others to change comes with greater difficulty. Forgiving others of their wrongs can be the more trying test. Following Yoseyf’s example is the mightier task.

We must therefore continually remind ourselves that people can change. And thus we must say to ourselves that nothing is fated. If I can change then others can also change. Can we forgive and forget the wrongs done to us? Can you allow for others to change? Believing that others can change will give us hope in the future.

I believe that repentance is built into our fabric of creation. Was it placed within us by Elohim at the beginning? It could well be because the ability for people to change that is how we sustain the world, for there is no future without change.

But always remember that no matter where you have been or what you have done wrong, all we have to do is look up and say “Elohim I have offended You, and I am sorry, forgive me I was wrong forgive me, I will do everything possible to get back to where I should be! Omein.” 

Always remember our motto seen on the logo at the top of this page: “The More Torah, the More Life”, for Elohim, blessed be His Sanctified Name, is the one who gave us our Life!”

Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.


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