Vayigash: He came
44,18 - 47,27
How to resolve conflicts in 7 stages: the art of listening
to the other person
1. Instant peace does not exist
2. Themes of the parasha: pleading and reconciliation
3. A word in thine ears.
A. True communication
1. The first stage: be sensitive and direct
2. Draw near
3. Go towards
4. A meeting of the senses
5. The presence of the shekhina
6. The sixth stage: true dialogue
B. Rashi's commentary
1. Apparent simplicity
2. Rashi's method
3. A warning sign
4. Be open
5. What is our method of study?
6. Yehuda's language and approach
7. Divinity in his words
8. The right to study the Torah
9. Wisdom in negotiation
The art of mediation
1. "True" contact
2. From din to rahamim
3. The art of using allusions
4. Lesson 1: Jewish politics
5. Lesson 2: how we should view ourselves
6. Consequences: the necessity of studying the Torah
7. The Jewish way of resolving conflict
8. There is no easy solution
9. The "only" condition for success
Instant peace and happiness does not
In each of the preceding parashiot, we saw the progressive
unfurling of the divine plan: or, rather, through the patriarchs,
we witnessed the reconstruction of humanity as it slowly
discovers the divine middot (attributes) in their example.
This discovery, in itself, is insufficient, for negatives
forces are powerful within man, between men and in the world
in general. We saw suffering between fathers and sons in
the sacrifice of Isaac, suffering at the hands of other
peoples when they abducted wives and blocked wells, maternal
suffering with sterility or loss of a child at childbirth,
conjugal suffering with the separation of couples as when
Yaakov had to wait for Rahel, fraternal suffering as in
the story of Yaakov's children, and paternal suffering as
that endured by Yaakov.
is long before we can attain familial and social happiness,
The Torah taught us, in the preceding parashiot, that this
suffering and these trials are necessary in order to better
a world where the forces of good are pitted against the
forces of evil, and in order to better ourselves. This concept
of happiness is very different to concepts that preach instant
This is what Rashi tells us in his commentary on Bereshit
"bikesh Yaakov leshev be shalva, Yaakov wanted to dwell
kafatz alav rughzo shel Yosef, but torments fell on him
tzaddikim mevakshim leshev be shalva, the righteous aspire
amar Hakadosh Barukh Hu, Hakadosh Barukh Hu said:
lo dayan la tzaddikim, it is not enough for the righteous
ma she metukan lahem le olam habba, what is reserved for
them in the world above
ella she mavakshim, but they ask for more
leshev be shalva ba olam haze, to dwell in tranquillity
in this world."
But there is something new:
this parasha gives us the principles for resolving conflict
and achieving reconciliation. These are not simple moral
precepts such as "reconcile yourselves; love one another,"
or facile slogans such as "peace now" which are
no more than false forms of manipulation by one camp against
another. To attain true peace requires time and skill, and
knowing how to draw near to the other party, how to settle
differences, how to avoid humiliating the other party in
a settlement, how to avoid reviving old hurts, how to find
true areas of unity, and how to agree on the rights of each
party. The Torah teaches us all of this.
Many Jews say that they admire
Judaism but are put off by its complexity.
This is correct, for Judaism is very different from "popular
ideologies," "political platforms," "fashionable
slogans," and "simple creeds." Judaism follows
another path, and is based on three principles:
" it respects the complex science of He who created
the universe, which is revealed in the Torah;
" it tells us to study the complex texts on human existence
written by the patriarchs and the Sages;
" it teaches us complex rules of conduct. To be true,
good, simple, just, and happy is very complicated.
Where does one find simplicity?
In the feelings of our heart, in trust, and in righteousness.
Let us examine how peace and
happiness are attained.
We shall learn how to forget
ideologies, political parties, foreign creeds, betrayal
in friendship and love
. all that was "Egypt."
Themes of the parasha: pleading and
The parasha recounts Yehuda's plea to Yosef, the Pharaoh's
Viceroy; Yosef's disclosure of his true identity; Yaakov's
arrival in Egypt with all his family; the list of Yaakov's
A word in thine ears
The story of Yehuda's plea is well-known, but the meaning
of the parasha is much deeper than the story. Every word
and phrase in hebrew is full of meaning. We shall focus
on just a few of these words, in the first verse:
"Then Yehuda came near
unto him, and said: Oh my lord, let they servant, I pray
thee, speak a word in my lord's ears and let not thine anger
burn against thy servant, for thou art even as Pharaoh."
One has to translate the Hebrew
literally in order to reveal the rich meaning behind the
"vayigah elave yehuda vayomer, and he draws towards
him Yehuda saying:
bi adoni, in me my lord
yedaber-na avdekha, let him say, by your grace, thy servant
davar beoznei adoni, a word in the ears of my lord,
ve-el yahar afekha beavdekha kamokha paroah, and may thy
anger not arouse against thy servant for as thou Pharaoh."
Rashi takes up this passage:
"a word in the ears of my lord" (davar beoznei
), and says: "may my words enter into your
ears" (yikanesu devarai beoznekha).
Rashi bases himself on Bereshit Rabba 93, 6, which shows
that the verse cannot be understood as meaning that Yehuda
and Yosef talked intimately, since they used an interpreter;
others also note that it is impossible to speak into the
ear of a prince. Rashi's interpretation goes much further
than the peshat (literal meaning) which refers to the tone
of the voice. We shall see how Rashi's interpretation is
based on all levels of meaning: the peshat, the drash, the
remez, the sod. He constructs his interpretation as solidly
as one constructs a house, beginning with the foundation
which is the peshat.
This is Rashi's method.
I. True communication
1st phase: be sensitive and
In parasha lekh lekha, we saw the inner progress Avraham
made when he was able to say to his wife: "thou are
beautiful, thou" (Bereshit 12, 11). We find the same
process in: "a word in thine ears."
But why does it say: "in thine ears"? An unusual
detail in the Torah is always a source of great meaning.
Let us develop this further.
Yehuda could have simply said: "permit me to say,"
or "pray hearken," or "allow me to say a
word to you my lord." But "a word in thine ears"
indicates that Yehuda does not just want his message to
be heard and understood, he wants it to enter into the ear
of Yosef, that he should feel it.
At the end of this exchange, we see that Yosef has been
"moved." He is troubled, touched and can no longer
bear the subterfuge of his position: his armor was breached
and he broke out and wept (Bereshit 45, 2) and embraced
He truly felt Yehuda's plea. How did this happen? The Torah
teaches us the steps needed to attain true communication
-- how to overcome distance and animosity, and achieve a
true encounter and true comprehension (in the real sense
of the word, which is to "seize together") between
2nd phase: draw near
Yehuda immediately puts himself in a situation of drawing
near in equality. Indeed, the verb vayigash does not simply
mean "he went forward" but that "he met."
Yehuda draw near to Yosef because he believed in the divinity
of his kavana, purpose.
The verses that follow are punctuated with expressions that
stress his gesture: "towards," "towards you,"
" The two men do not just talk
and listen to each other: they use words in order to create
a true meeting of minds and to discover each other.
3rd phase: go towards
The fact that the same expressions keep recurring means
that the two men have advanced towards each other and drawn
near. It is a loving process of going towards and drawing
Let us examine how the language
describes this process:
The word "towards" (el) is important but it is
often overlooked because of errors in translation.
Onkelos's translation in Arameic, however, stresses this
word and Rashi attributes great value to Onkelos's contribution:
vezehu leshon onkelos, (Bereshit 6, 17 etc.)
vezehu targum shel onkelos, (Bereshit 49, 5 etc. )
vezehu she tirgem onkelos, (Bereshit 49, 9 etc.).
Onkelos often translates "towards"
by the Arameic word levate which adds a connotation of accompaniment
(livui, in modern Hebrew). Below are examples of verses
where Onkelos uses this expression:
" 44, 18: "he came
near unto him" (levate..)
" 44, 21: "bring him down unto me" (levati..)
" 44, 24: "unto thy servant" (levate avdekha..)
" 44, 28: "one went out from me" (milevati..)
" 44, 30: "to thy servant" (levate avdekha..)
" 44, 34: "how shall I go up to my father"
" 45, 4: "come near me" (levati)
" 45, 9: "go up to my father" (levate aba.)
" 45, 9: "come down unto me" (levati..)
Note that this invitation to
draw near is issued by and to all the participants: each
one is receptive to the other and each one encourages the
other to draw near.
4th phase: a meeting of all
Then the encounter which began with talk and listening,
goes on to involve all the senses (45, 12): "behold
your eyes see and the eyes of my brother Binyamin, that
it is my mouth that speaketh unto you." The senses
strengthen the meeting between the brothers:
" They do not communicate with intellectual words;
" They do not talk to each other like negotiatiors;
" They do not exchange philosophical thoughts.
" They are communicating with all the senses, as seen
in the next verses: "ye shall tell my father of all
my glory in Egypt and of all that ye have seen, and ye shall
hasten and bring down my father hither. And he fell upon
Binyamin's neck and wept."
5th phase: the presence of
There has been true receptivity, union and love. The Tzemach
said that listening (shemiya) has the same gematria (425)
as the initials of the last verse of the Psalms: "kol
haneshama tehalle, let everything that hath breath praise.").
These letters also make up one of the 72 divine names of
Hashem. The importance attributed to hearing is seen in
the fact that the two words shema Yisrael were chosen to
represent the heart of our daily prayers. The Sages also
tell us that language (lashon) and the shekhina have the
same gematria (385). Language should aim to reach this level
Onkelos also often uses the
word lekabel (receive) or kibela to translate the Hebrew
neged, "facing, opposing." His translation does
full justice to all the meanings described above.
6. 6th phase: true dialogue
Only after there has been true listening and receptivity,
can there be true dialogue ("ve aharei hken diberu
ehav ito, and after that his brethren talked with him"
45, 15). True communication is so important that it can
only take place after there has been a phase of listening
and preparation. The same is true for any union between
brothers, couples, friends and nations.
As we examine these stages in Rashi's commentary, we shall
see the mastery of Rashi.
Rashi says just three words on the expression he is interpreting
("davar beoznei adoni, a word in the ears of my lord"):
"yicanesu devarei beozneikha, may my words enter your
ears." At this, an ignorant person would say: "but
this is evident and Rashis is just interpreting the peshat,
the literal meaning for children and beginners, and is contributing
nothing deep like other commentators who develop reflection,
Rashi's aim is altogether different: he draws our attention
to a slight but important detail and, through this, he encourages
us to examine the text in a new perspective in order to
discover its meaning.
A warning sign
Whenever Rashi's commentary appears simple, even superfluous,
this must be a warning sign to us to stop, think and listen
to the text; this is a moment when cerebral thought should
be suspended, for it is often too fast, pretentious and
superficial. When we give ourselves this moment, we find
that we discover many new meanings.
7th phase: be open
Rashi respects the reader, like the Torah does: "you
are free not to seek or listen to the text, but you will
not see the pearl which is under your eyes: but if you are
open and say hineni, `here am I, your servant hearkens,'then you will see and hear the riches of the Torah which
has been given to you."
The Talmud tells us this repeatedly:
"come, listen.." The Zohar says the same: "come,
see." First one must draw near, then listen, then reflect
in a new way."
How have we proceeded?
Our method consists in examining Rashi and the other commentators
only after we have read and listened to the text ourselves;
"we read every verse in Hebrew twice, and once in Arameic,"
according to the traditional method ("shnayim mikra
veehad targum, twice the Torah and once its translation,"
Berakhot 8a, Zohar II 138 b).
Rav Campanton, the Gaon of Castille,
suggests that students read the text first on their own
before studying the commentaries, even Rashi's (refer to
my book Lev Gompers for guidelines on how to study the Torah
and the Talmud).
Yehuda's language and approach
This approach will help us to understand other commentators.
We saw how Yehuda immediately drew near and put himself
in a position of equality, for vayigash does not only mean
"he advanced" but also that "he met."
Midrash Rabba (93, 2) says that Yehuda's approach signifies
that he is telling Yosef that he is equal to the princes
of Egypt and it is the princes who accept to meet him.
The interpretation of the Midrash
could be taken simply at face value. But, once again, as
with Rashi's commentary, we shall see that there are deeper
levels of meaning to be discovered. So let us stop and reflect.
As we know, the composition
of words in Hebrew is a source of great meaning. The Tur,
known as the Baal Haturim, confirms the interpretation of
the Midrash by pointing out that the last letters of the
first three words of the parasha (vayigash elav yehudah
) form the word shave, which means "equal."
Yehuda's divine language
Hassidic commentaries, such as the Maor va shemesh by Rav
Kalonumos Calman Epstein (dec. 1823), note that the term
shave indicates that Yehuda possesses an element of divinity.
Epstein shows that the first letters of the first words
of the parasha correspond to on of the divine names which
can only be attained by holiness and humility; once it is
attained, then it can lead to the kind of union and rapprochement
which took place between Yehuda and Yosef. Students who
wish to know more about these concepts should study Epstein's
The right to study the Torah
I refer to this commentary in order to show that the Torah
can be read at all levels of understanding, from the apparent/literal
meaning to the higher levels of interpretation. As the Ramban
says, in his introduction to the Torah, these levels are
open to anyone who wishes to discover them: they are hidden
in order to be revealed, but there is nothing secret or
mystical about them. Ribbi Yosef Caro goes even further;
he says that every Jew "mehuyav, is obligated"
to study these levels of meaning in the Torah.
Yehuda's approach teaches us
a lesson in conduct, which applies to all Jews: he believed
in his kavana, intention and in the divine will symbolized
in the Hebrew words he uses. His very name Yehuda means
Jewish (yehudi) and is formed by the 4 letters that make
up the divine name of Hashem plus dalet which represents
the inclusion of the real world.
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov,
the founder of Hassidism (1700-1760), notes that the divine
names are found many times in the first words of the parasha,
but Yehuda believed that the Egyptian Viceroy (Yosef) did
not hear his message of equality and divinity (indeed Yehuda
spoke to Yosef through an interpreter who translated his
words into Egyptian, as verse 42, 23 says). Many commentators
have tried to discover, by looking to see where the term
beozneikha appears in the Torah, whether Rashi's use of
the term (in your ears) indicates that other people were
present. Rav Menahem Mendel Schneerson solved this problem.
Wisdom in negotiation
Yehuda knew the secrets of wisdom
"mayim amukim etza velev-ish
counsel in the heart of men is like deep water,
veish tevuna bakatzir vaayin
but a man of understanding will draw it out" (Mishle,
Proverbs 20, 5).
One of the divine secrets in
negotiation is that one must be ready simultaneously to
be judged, to make war, to make conciliations and to use
prayer in action (Bereshit Rabba 93, 6).
Yehuda knew that one should
not deal lightly with the heart of man, and that one must
never provoke an adversary to react dangerously. Bereshit
Rabba 93, 4 says that Yehuda knew how to get through, with
his every word and response, to the heart of man (davar
al davar ad she amad libo).
The parasha teaches us the skills
and stages needed in order to attain fraternal love in cases
" awareness of all levels of reality (social, personal,
" building an equal relationship with respect
" communicating and responding with all the senses
" going towards the other
" persevering in this direction
" attaining true dialogue
C. The art of mediation
Note the use of the superfluous
word bi (in me):
"The Yehuda came near unto
him and said in me my lord, let thy servant
(vayigash elav yehuda vayomer bi adoni yedaber-na avdekha..).
This shows us that Yehuda was in contact with himself and
with his lord (bi adoni), not just with external political
His actions and relationships
are subordinated to his own inner self, which is contained
within the Creator who is the makom, and who governs all
Love, friendship, and fraternity
are only possible at this level of inner "being."
From din to rahamim
Yehuda knew that, through Hashem,
he had to pass from the level of din (judgment), because
of having sold Yosef, to the level of rahamim (mercy) which
is the source of all blessing in the world.
Diplomacy and psychological
skills are not enough to overcome such crises; one must
also know the art of prayer and directing one's kavana (intention)
towards spiritual forces.
Most politicians and militants
remain at the level of din (power, rivalry, hatred).
The Torah and the Sages show
us the road to rahamim.
The art of using allusions
Many commentators have analyzed the remez level of meaning
in Yehuda's words. Yehuda was in contact with himself and
with his Lord (bi adoni). The word bi (whose numerical value
is 12) shows that the 12 names of Hashem were integrated
within him and within his name.
The Baal Shem Tov, basing himself
on the Ribash, analyzes the remez and notes that there are
many, apparently, superfluous words and letters in the first
verse of the parasha:
vayigash el av yehuda vayomer
bi adoni yedaber-na avdekha beoznei adoni veal yihar apekha
beavdekha ki khamokha ke faro
words are bi na el ke.. which are the initials of the words
in verse 9 of Psalm 119: bame yizake naar et orho lishmor
kidevarekha ("wherewithal shall a young man cleanse
his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word").
The Baal Shem Tov notes that
the numerical value of these letters is 114, which is the
numerical value of the two divine names of Hashem (63 and
52) which repair anger (hatikun lakaas).
The Sages want to teach us two
Lesson one: Jewish politics
Yehuda's skill is based on wisdom,
psychology, politics, and the Torah. May God give us such
negotiators and politicians who respect the Torah and apply
it, as should be the case in a holy land and among a holy
people. Yehuda is a model for us: his example shows us how
to engage in politics as Jews.
If we do not follow his example
in politics, we will be governed by the values of other
nations and we will be alienated from our own Torah. It
will become foreign (hol) to us.
We should recognize that:
" we are like young people (naar), dominated by uncontrollable
" that the road ahead is long (orho),
" that it requires the right conduct (orho)
" and that we attain (izake) this level of conduct
only by a process of cleansing and purification that combines
human expertise, the teachings of the Torah and prayer.
Consequences: the necessity
of studying the Torah
It follows that those who do not devote the same time to
studying the Torah as they do to studying other subjects
" will be unable to resolve the conflicts that confront
the Jewish people,
" and will cooperate, as happened many times in the
past, in the process of the destruction of the Jewish people
(just like mishandling a powerful car or missile inevitably
leads to its destruction).
The Jewish way of resolving conflict
Political principles that do not follow Yehuda's approach
are avodah zara for:
" they are based on subjugation
" they pretend to be above all creeds, including the
" they sacrifice friendships, families, individuals
forthe "cause" and in the name of a political
ideal, everyone is legitimate target for insults and disrespect.
In contrast, those who seek
shalom emet base the resolution of conflict on the teachings
of the Torah: "They shall know My name and I shall
answer them and they will be My people" (bi adoni).
The lack of communication between
Cain and Abel, seen so often in human relationships, is
resolved here in the inter-family conflicts of the Jewish
people and for the benefit of humanity. One could object
that this did not change the course of history, which continued
in its cruel ways, and that the Jewish people still do not
structure their lives according to the teachings of the
To this we answer that the Torah
both teaches and proffers: Hashem created the world and
gave it freely to man, for him to do as he pleases. It is
up to man to learn the consequences of his actions.
Jews at least should have the
honesty not to attribute the calamities of the world to
"God's silence," when it is man himself who is
responsible, and when the Torah has given us the rules for
building happiness in the world.
Jews should also have the wisdom
to understand that it is useless, and destructive, to look
for solutions in alien ideologies and to ignore the teachings
of the Torah.
There is no easy solution
No, there is no easy solution. It is vain to cry out, like
market vendors: "come, come, everything is simple,
Rav X or Y said so, do this or do that and everything will
This is not what the Torah says.
Our Sages teach that maturation is a long process and what
one generation does influences another generation. Despite
the successful reunion between brothers in this parasha,
the errors and false directions taken by the sons of Yaakov
had negative consequences for many generations. The texts
say that this was the reason for the asara harughei malkhut
--- the 10 great Sages (Ribbi Akiva, Ribbi Hanania
who were killed with unparalleled cruelty by the Romans
and who, tragically, paid with their lives for the errors
of the sons of Yaakov.
These teachings should strengthen
our sense of responsibility, for we are a generation who
have witnessed the best and the worst in the world and cannot
We have the knowledge, but do
we have the strength? The Torah shows us that man needs
great strength and will power. Read chapter one of the Book
of Yehoshua (Joshua).
The preceding parasha (re-read
it) showed us that Hashem is the source of our strength
and He never closes the door of His benediction, for He
is Rahamim. The festival of Hanukka reminds us of this.
"The" sole condition
Certain conditions are necessary in order to carry out this
program. It is written that Hashem did not choose Yisrael
because of his strength or his actions, but because of his
humility: lo bahar Hashem beYisrael ki im bishvil haanava
(Hida, in Tehilot Yosef, on Psalm 149, 4).
This means that it is the recognition
of our weaknesses that makes us worthy of receiving the
help of the Savior, the Rock and the Guardian of his people.
Yehuda, similarly, merited royalty
because of his anava, modesty and humility: mipnei ma zakha
Yehuda lamalkhut, mipenei haanava (Tosefta Berakhot 3).
These issues do not concern
just the leaders of the Jewish people, they concern every
Jew, for every Jew is a member of Yisrael and Yisrael is
the tzaddik (righteous) and the yesod (foundation) of the
world and its mission is for the good of all creation.
We should understand the teachings
of the parasha at our own level:
1. Is there nothing worse than
to reject someone we love, as the brothers of Yosef did,
and endanger their lives?
(There are many ways of doing this and we should examine
our relationships honestly). The parasha does not teach
us to ask pardon of others on Yom Kippur, invoke divine
pardon and then go back to our old ways.
2. The parasha teaches us that
we should learn to say:
" geshu na elai, come near to me, I pray you (Bereshit
" lo atem shelatem oti henna ke haelokim, it was not
you that sent me hither, but God (Bereshit 45, 8).
" maharu, make haste.
" vekhilkalti otekha sham, there will I nourish thee
(Bereshit 45, 11).
1. The 7 stages of negotiation
as demonstrated by Yehuda
2. The rule for studying Rashi.
For more on the words of this parasha, refer to:
Baal Haturim or the Tur, Rabbenu Yaakov ben Asher
Baal Shem Tov