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Parsha Vayigash

12/13/2018 09:57:59 PM

Dec13

The dramatic showdown in the beginning of the Parsha is set by Yehuda’s courageous approach before Yosef, where he demands that Binyamin be returned to his anxious father.  There is a great deal of discussion in the Midrash about the power of Yehuda’s advancement and its effects upon Egypt, and while the incredible stories in the Midrash are hardly hinted at in the simple story in the Torah, it must be that the Midrash is reflecting the alarming and fearsome message in Yehuda’s words.  But what was Yehuda’s message exactly?  From a cursory look at his words, all Yehuda seems to convey is an accurate review of the events that have transpired up until this point.  If anything, by describing the close relationship of Binyamin and Yaakov, Yehuda is speaking to Yosef’s basic senses of moral justice and compassion, and hardly presenting any threatening arguments or new persuasive evidence to the case.

It is reasonable to conclude that the strength of Yehuda’s words was the way that he was able to freeze the present moment of conflict and place it in perspective of the total sequence of events that formed the total story, and it was this insightful twist that simply changed the conflict of finding the goblet in Binyamin’s sack to being a part of something much larger.  If one were to isolate the last point of the story, of the goblet being found in Binyamin’s sack, there is little room to maneuver and little that can change the intensity of the present conflict.  As soon as the point in the story shifts to the overall picture, different insights emerge, and suddenly the goblet is not such a simple goblet, Binyamin is not such a simple Binyamin, and most important, Yosef is not such a simple Yosef.  Yehuda forced Yosef out of the present moment, and in doing that, he compelled Yosef to reveal his true identity because the bigger picture perspective demanded clarity and open honesty in order for the dots to connect. 

This simple tactic is difficult for the fallible human mind.  Our natural mental amnesia changes the way we remember things, our memories are greatly impacted by emotional association and disillusioned self-perception, and there are times when we simply don’t know all of the background information.  When we are frustrated by another person’s behavior, that frustration is often due to the fact that we are completely absorbed in the present moment of their behavior.  Everyone in life has a story that barely begins with their own birth, and our human limitation does not allow us to really understand all the causes and effects in front of us. 

The Gemara says that when tragedies occur in one’s life, one should review their past actions.  Moreover, the Ba’alei Mussar recommend a daily review of one’s actions, so that one is always cognizant of the ongoing stories of life.  Revisiting the past is not merely a memory tool; it is the key to understanding the present.  This exercise can give us a small glimpse of God’s ability to retain all past events in perfect recollection, in a way makes Him the ultimate judge who can really ascertain what is happening in the present moment.  Yehuda’s candid remarks left their mark on Egypt, as they experienced this shift of being “in the box” of dealing with Binyamin’s culpability to stepping “out of the box” to see that Yosef was orchestrating this whole drama, and through this experience, they were taught a valuable lesson in the proper perspective of the present.     

Sun, March 24 2019 17 Adar II 5779