Woe to us on the Judgment Day! Vayigash

Rabbi Yochanan said: “Woe to us on the day of Judgment; woe to us on the day of rebuke! When Yosef revealed himself to his brothers and said ‘I am Yosef’ they were completely dumbfounded. When the Holy One Blessed Be He will stand in judgment, how much more so will we be dumbfounded. (Midrash Tanchuma Yigash 5)
This week’s Parsha is the dramatic denouement of the story of the sale of Yosef into slavery by his jealous brothers. Yosef is the most powerful man in Mitzrayim. His brothers came down to Mitzrayim to buy food because of the famine. But they have another purpose. They have seen how their father Ya’akov has been for the last 22 years thinking that Yosef was dead, killed by a wild animal. Now has come their opportunity to find and redeem their brother. Only they don’t know that their brother is the one sitting in front of them. They don’t recognize him, and are confused by his contradictory actions. And they have fallen into the trap that Yosef set for them.
This week’s story starts from were last week’s Parsha left off. Yosef, as the powerful Viceroy, had set a frame up and had Binyamin arrested for theft. He will not be allowed to go back home, and his father will never see him again. Yehuda stepped forward to plea with him, not knowing that this is his long lost brother Yosef.
Yehuda retells the story of how they came to Mitzrayim to buy food, and were required to bring Binyamin with them. He tells of how their father Ya’akov refused to let Binyamin go. Yehuda relates how Ya’akov spoke of his beloved wife Rachel who had two sons – Yosef and Binyamin. Yosef departed, was mauled by a wild animal, and never heard from again. If anything should happen to Binyamin, it would be too much to bear. Finally Yehuda convinces his father to entrust Binyamin to his care. If anything should happen to him, Yehuda will be personally responsible.
It is this responsibility that Yehuda is pleading with Yosef. Yehuda offers to take the place of Binyamin, and be a slave for life in Mitzrayim, in order to allow Binyamin to go back to his father.
The Torah says this point that Yosef could not hold himself back. He decides that it is time to reveal his true identity to his brothers. But in doing so, he also asks a question. He says, “I am Yosef. Is my father alive?” At first glance it would seem that he is asking again about the welfare of his father. But we see that he has already asked the brothers about their father, and they said that he is alive and well. In Yehuda’s pleading with Yosef he relates the details of the conversation that he has just had with his father before they departed for Mitzrayim.
Rather, what Yosef was saying could be explained thus: “You’re concerned about how your father will react when he finds out that Binyamin is gone? I am Yosef. You sold me into slavery and told our father that I was dead. He has been grieving for the last 22 years. Did you worry about him then? Did you worry if he would survive the grief?” In pointing out this contradiction in the brother’s actions, this was rebuke in its most powerful form. They are worrying about father now, but that very action now indicts them for their past action of not caring in the past.
This is what Rabbi Yochanan is telling us about the Day of Judgment. On that day the Holy One Blessed Be He will speak up for the Mitzvot that have been shamed, for the Torah that has been violated. If we think that we can come to the Day of Judgment and get a free pass because we have been “religious” and “Torah observant Jews,” we better make sure that we don’t have our own internal contradictions. Our own cutting of corners, of ignoring our wrong doings. How can we even begin to make sure that we don’t have these internal contradictions? Like we wrote here last week, the advice that the Rabbis give is to keep a spiritual accounting. To spend time every day to weigh our deeds, to make sure that we are actually doing good deeds, and not fooling ourselves into thinking that our bad deeds are actually good.

This entry was posted in Torah, Weekly Torah portion. Bookmark the permalink.