Shabbat Vayigash 5783

As we reach the height of narrative drama in the Yosef story, we encounter the longest speech in Sefer Bereshit. At the end of last week’s Torah portion, Miketz, Yosef’s “stolen” divining cup has been found in Binyamin’s backpack. Despite Yehudah’s commitment that all the brothers shall remain in Egypt as slaves, Yosef in his continuing concealed identity insists that only Binyamin is to remain, while the others are free to go.
This week, in Parshat Vayigash, Yehudah steps forward and delivers a speech that does two remarkable things. One is that it goes on for 17 verses uninterrupted. The second is that it breaks Yosef down; Yosef is no longer able to hold back the truth, and he reveals his identity to his brothers in one of the Torah’s most moving scenes. What does Yehudah say that brings about this dramatic result?
Front and center in Yehudah’s soliloquy is the term “my father,” which is meant to inspire compassion in the stern “Egyptian viceroy” to whom he is appealing. This should pull effectively on anyone’s heartstrings, so we can appreciate the strategy. But at the end of his speech, Yehudah introduces another idea: substitution. “Now your servant has pledged himself for the boy to my father, saying, ‘if Ii do not bring him back to you, I shall stand guilty before my father forever.’ Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers” (Genesis 44:32-33).
What influence does Yehudah think this offer will have on the Egyptian viceroy, given that he’s already rejected the offer that they should all stay? On Shabbat morning, I’ll dig into this question deeper, as we compare the two men in the scene–petitioner and arbiter–as prototypes for Jewish living.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 4:18 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28