Torah from around the world #95

Time for a New Approach to Understanding // Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

by Rabbi Edgar Nof, Or Hadash, Haifa

Our Torah portion opens with Judah’s initiatives when he “approaches” Joseph: “Vayigash elav Yehudah” (Genesis 44:18). There are the early signs of a possible solution in the powerful dispute between Joseph and his brothers.

Further along the story we also witness the intriguing reunion between Joseph and Jacob. One very captivating verse describes the intensity of the reunion’s emotional level between Joseph and Jacob after so many years:  “And Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father to Goshen and presented himself unto him and he fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29).

Reading the above verse we ask ourselves: Who is he, the one crying? Is it Jacob (=Israel) or is it Joseph? The Torah tells us that one of them fell on the other’s neck and cried, but doesn’t explicitly tell us his identity.  Interpreters from the Middle Ages are of opposing opinions. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhak, France, 1040-1105) and Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (Italy, 1475-1550) are of the opinion that Joseph is the one crying because Jacob is an honorable man, the head of his tribe, and Joseph often cried due to his turbulent life. Separation from his family has brought longing and yearning. He simply missed them.

The Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses Ben-Nahman Girondi, Catalonya 1194-1270) and Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1089-1164) hold the opinion that Jacob was crying because he missed Joseph - his beloved, favored son - and never expected to see him alive again. Joseph, the Egyptian senior vizier, would never reveal tears in front of his servants. It is possible that our renowned interpreters put their own realities into the Torah text. We may do the same; it is expected and even desirable.

It seems to me that we may learn from our weekly portion that in order to solve conflicts we must sometimes be ready to approach the other person, group, denomination or nation who is engaged with us in dispute, thereby getting closer to the disputer. This is exactly what Judah did with Joseph in Parashat Vayigash. He approaches his brother, he gets closer to him.

We can ask who cried, but the Torah deliberately does not want to tell us.  When one party keeps crying and the other feels only victory, confrontations intensify and the conflict becomes impossible to solve.

May we all learn how to listen to others, how to bring closer those who are in conflict with us and how to meet them halfway in order to achieve understanding, coexistence, tolerance and peace. 

I have the honor to serve Congregation Or Hadash, Haifa, for the past 11 years, where the members have succeeded in building a congregational atmosphere of one big extended family. This feeling is always extended to people who live in Haifa or visit us from overseas. Many families in the US and all over the world are a part of our extended Or Hadash family.

It is extremely significant that we keep on getting closer to one another, approaching individuals and society filled with support, encouragement, positive feedback and love.

We at Or Hadash had a warm and wonderful visit from Rabbi Steven Fuchs and we look forward to more visits from you and from anyone associated with the World Union.

Shabbat Shalom

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