Parashas Vayigash 5780 Taking responsibility

The Parasha begins with the confrontation between two Kings, Yehuda and Yosef. They are brothers, but their path of serving Hashem is very different. According to Kabala, they represent the 2 virtues of the Chanukah’s Dreidel. The Dreidel’s body is square, but when it’s spun it looks circular. Yosef represents the square while Yehuda represent the circle. Let’s explain the ramifications of those virtues: The Mishna in Avos (1:14) says: Hillel taught, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I?” These are critical virtues that everyone is confronted each day of his life. The difficulty lies in deciding how much of our time and resources should be dedicated to inner growth, and how much for reaching out to others. The nation as a whole also needs to juggle these two competing virtues. The search for the correct balance was played out in the dispute between Yosef and his brothers. Their struggle corresponded to two different paths within the Jewish people — one stressing the nation’s own spiritual development, and the other emphasizing Israel’s universal responsibility and influence. The Jewish people are crowned with two qualities, Eidut (testimony) and Torah, as it says: “[Hashem] established testimony in Yaakov; He set down Torah in Israel” (Psalms 78:5). What are these two qualities? The essence of Eidut is to accurately report facts as they occurred. Nothing may be added or altered when giving testimony. Torah study, on the other hand, involves chiddush — creative and innovative thought. This dichotomy of Eidut and Torah is the root of the conflict between Yaakov’s sons. Yosef stressed the concept of Eidut, as it says, “a testimony (eidut) for Yosef” (Psalms 81:6). The aspect of Eidut reflects Yosef’s desire to interact with the nations and expose them to the authentic message of monotheism and morality. Therefore, Yosef represents the actual square of the dreidel. On the other hand, Yehuda, emphasized the Torah and the special holiness of the Jewish people, which represents the dreidel’s circular appearance, as the circle delimitates between what inside with the outside. Indeed, Yehuda sought to develop and cultivate the unique heritage of Israel. Thus, it was Yehuda whom Yaakov picked to establish a Yeshiva Goshen, as stated in the Pasuk “And Yehuda was sent ahead to Goshen [ גֹ שֹ נֹה ]” (46:28). Interestingly, the spelling of Goshen in


the Pasuk represents the exact 4 letters that appear on the dreidel. What message lies here? Yosef sends royal wagons to bring his father and family to Egypt. Thus, the Midrash credits Yehuda with burning those wagons. He ordered that the wagons be destroyed when he saw that they were engraved with idolatrous symbols (Breishit Rabbah 94:3). This act, introducing the law of destroying idols with fire [later codified in Deut. 7:25], demonstrated Yehuda’s focus on the aspects of purity and innovation in Torah. The Tosefta (Berachos 4:16) elaborates: “Because of what [action] did Yehuda merit Kingship; because he saved his brother from death, as it says, “And Yehuda said to his brothers what profit will we have if we kill our brother and cover his blood…” The first reason the Tosefta gives is that he was the brother who prevented Yosef from being killed. The Tosefta continues: “Because of what


did Yehuda merit Kingship; because he admitted his responsibility in the incident with Tamar.” When Tamar was about to be burnt for seemingly transgressing the laws of immorality, Yehuda realized that he was the father of the twins she was bearing. He could have remained silent and saved himself from embarrassment, but he publicly admitted his role, thereby saving the lives of Tamar and the babies. The Tosefta offers another reason, this time focusing on an action taken by one of Yehuda’s descendants: “Because of what [action] did Yehuda merit Kinship; because he sanctified Hashem’s name, that when the Tribes stood at the sea, each one said ‘I am not going in [first], but the tribe of Yehuda went in first, thereby sanctifying Hashem’s name.” On this occasion, Nachshon ben Aminadav, of Yehuda, took the first bold steps into the Sea of Reeds even though he had no inkling of what would happen. Indeed, the water was up to his nose when the Sea finally split. When Yehuda admitted his role in the incident with Tamar, he passed a test that many great people before him failed to pass. Indeed, none other than the first man, Adam is an example of this phenomenon. Traditionally, Adam’s sin is attributed to his disobeying Hashem’s instructions not to eat from the fruit and was therefore expelled from Gan Eden. However, on closer analysis the punishment was not immediate, rather Hashem engaged Adam in conversation, giving him the opportunity to admit his mistake. However, Adam dodged the reprieve, instead he said, “the woman whom You gave to be with me – she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” Adam avoided responsibility for his sin, shifting it onto Chava and even Hashem himself for giving her to him initially. Then Hashem turned to Chava, also giving her a chance to repent – she too, declined the offer, saying, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate.”. Only then did Hashem punish them for the sin – it is clear


that had they taken responsibility for their actions and repent when Hashem confronted them, they may have been forgiven. The Tosefta’s message is clear: There is a level of greatness in taking responsibility. It seems that there are two main aspects of responsibility; taking responsibility for one’s own actions and mistakes; and taking responsibility to do what is necessary even when others do not. The Tosefta is teaching us that Yehuda epitomized both aspects. Clearly, we all err at some point, it is whether we can stand up and admit the truth for our actions that is the true judge of our spiritual level. Yosef on the other hand was the perfect individual, the only of the tribes to deserve the title of Tzadik. He almost elevated himself to the level of Patriarch. He also deserved to be king and will have a Mashiach, just as Yehuda. So which path should we chose? The answer is encompassed in the Pasuk “Hashem is One and His Name is One”. Yosef focused on the “Hashem is One”, while Yehuda focused on “His Name is One”. These are the separate paths of Eidut and Torah, mentioned above. This is the Shema’s message: “Listen, Israel: Hashem is our Lord; Hashem is one” (Deut. 6:4). These two phrases refer to two levels of Hashem’s unity in the world. “Hashem is our Lord” is Hashem’s unity as revealed in the world created according to the blueprint of Torah, and through which we can recognize the greatness of the Creator. “Hashem is one” is a higher level as it refers Hashem’s unity as it will be revealed in the future, a unity that will encompass the entire universe. Yehuda represents the first level of Hashem’s unity, a unity manifested through the Torah and the special role of the Jewish people. Yosef, on the other hand, sought to sanctify Hashem’s Name among the nations and bring knowledge of one Creator to the entire world. He represents the second level, the universal unity of Hashem. The Zohar noted what took place when Yaakov and Yosef finally met. The Pasuk relates that Yosef cried on his father’s neck but is silent regarding Yaakov’s emotions. According to the Zohar, Yaakov was reciting the Shema, as when a person is being showered with blessings, the prime of the emotions he feels must be directed toward Hashem, by reciting the Shema thoughtfully. Yaakov’s recitation of the Shema thus encapsulated the combined visions of both Yehuda and Yosef. We’re clearly not on the level to encompass both virtues. The dreidel’s message is clear, when a person must choose; if his life is spinning then he must take Yehuda’s path. However, if he merited a calm and sturdy life, he must choose Yosef’s path.

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

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