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Vayigash 5778-2017

“Jacob’s Enhanced Joy from Joseph His Righteous Son”


In this week’s parasha, parashat Vayigash, after 22 years of separation, the elderly Patriarch Jacob, is reunited with his beloved son, Joseph, who is now the Viceroy of Egypt.

After revealing himself to his brothers, and dramatically reuniting with his beloved brother, Benjamin, Joseph, kisses all his brothers, and cries.

Pharaoh is delighted with the reunion of Joseph and his brothers, but is most eager to keep Joseph in Egypt. He instructs Joseph to shower his family with gifts to bring back to Canaan and urge his brothers to bring their father Jacob, as well as their families, down to Egypt, where they will be well taken care of during the famine. When Joseph sends his brothers off, he warns them not to become agitated on the way, by blaming each other for what they had endured.

Upon reaching Canaan, Jacob’s sons eagerly tell their father, Genesis 45:26, עוֹד יוֹסֵף חַי, וְכִי הוּא מֹשֵׁל בְּכָל אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם , “Joseph is still alive and that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!”

Scripture reports that Jacob’s heart went numb, and that Jacob did not believe them. Only when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport them, did his spirits revive.

The Torah then reports that Israel (Jacob) says, Genesis 45:28, רַב עוֹד יוֹסֵף בְּנִי חָי, אֵלְכָה וְאֶרְאֶנּוּ בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת , “Enough, my son Joseph is still alive, I must go and see him before I die!”

Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus in his commentary on the Torah, Tiferet Shimshon, notes that the brothers told Jacob two things: 1. that Joseph was still alive; 2. that he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.

Rabbi Pincus points out that a righteous person is called, אִישׁ חַי , a living man, and that the Talmud Brachot 18a, derives from this that righteous people are considered alive even when they are dead, because of the Torah that they taught and the life lessons that they modeled, which live on forever. When the brothers said to Jacob that Joseph was still alive, they informed Jacob that despite all he had endured in Egypt, Joseph had kept the faith and remained righteous throughout the 22 year ordeal of being separated from family.

But what about the second part of their report that the brothers delivered to Jacob, that Joseph is now the ruler over all the land of Egypt? To this important information, Jacob does not seem to react. Instead, Jacob’s apparent response was, “Enough that Joseph is alive, it is sufficient to know that he is living and remained righteous. What does it mean to me that he is a great officer and ruler in all of Egypt? All of this is vanity. What is most important is that Joseph remained righteous.  That is what makes me happy. That is why I long to see him. Had he not remained righteous, who knows if I would ever want to see him again?”

When Jacob and Joseph eventually meet, they fall on each other’s shoulders and cry. Old man, Israel, says to Joseph, Genesis 46:30, אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ, כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי , “Now I can die, after my having seen your face, because you are still alive.” Jacob feels particularly secure with his life’s legacy now that he is aware of Joseph’s many righteous accomplishments, saving an entire civilization from famine and destruction, without making moral compromises. All of Joseph’s good deeds will have an impact for generations, redounding to the benefit of the person who fathered that child, meaning Jacob himself.

Rabbi Pincus points out that when Jacob says, אָמוּתָה הַפָּעַם , “I will die this time,” it is because Jacob is finally certain that he will only die once, and not, G-d forbid, die many deaths–-from a child who embarrassed him by departing from the path, and performing evil deeds. “I now see that you, Joseph, have remained a righteous person. I am now certain that I will only die once, and that all the good deeds that you have performed will be credited to me, and after I die, in your merit, I will certainly be elevated in the World to Come.”

How timely and profound is this story of Jacob and Joseph. Jacob dismisses all the wealth, prominence, honor and prestige that Joseph has amassed for himself. All he is concerned about are Joseph’s good deeds and his righteousness.

We have been witness of late of people who have led extraordinarily productive professional lives, who were, until recently, revered for their accomplishments, have amassed untold wealth, rewards and accolades, and are now reduced to ridicule and scorn, because of their impulsiveness and inability to control themselves, that has now become public.

It is not coincidental that the Talmud (Yoma 35b) says that in the end of days, when people come to plead before the Divine Tribunal and claim that their mortal temptations were so great they had to eventually yield, it will be Joseph, who withstood the temptations of the wife of Potifar, who will stand as prosecutor and say: “Were you more handsome than I? Were you more pressured than I was? I did not yield, and maintained my piety.”

This is why Jacob rejoiced in the righteousness of his son. That is why he says, “I am now prepared to die.”

May you be blessed.

The festival of Chanukah began on Tuesday night, December 12, 2017 and continues through Wednesday evening, December 20, 2017.

Wishing all a happy conclusion of the Chanukah festival.