More nights than I care to admit, Henry willawaken me, and I take him into our room and turn on the television. Somehow, I happened on the game show “Take It All.” The beginning fascinated me, and the end infuriated me. At the end, there are two contestants left, with the gist of the game being able to bluff the other out of what they have. What I detested was the host, Howie Mandel, actually encouraging one contestant to lie to the other, to the extent that one contestant said she was going to donate part of her winnings to an anti-bullying charity founded by her opponent. By lying to her opponent, she convinced him to not try and “Take It All” and rather keep what he had, so then she ripped all of his earnings from him. She lied about donating to an anti-bullying charity!
Henry and I finally fell back asleep, and I woke up to the news of the Newtown shootings. I was also quickly drawn to our Torah portion for this week, Parashat Vayigash. How? The brothers deceived their father, and years later Joseph is misleading the brothers. Does the deceit ever end?
To back up, Joseph had (not yet divulged himself) told his brothers to go back to Canaan but leave Benjamin who had been apprehended as a “thief”. Judah risked his life to intercede. As Judah steps forward, he realizes everything depends upon what he will say.
The situation seemed helpless. Our commentators dissect his plea, first by calling our attention to the fact it is the longest oration in Genesis, but even more so discussing the simple but eloquent nature of his plea, the fact that it was controlled, yet emotional, and respectful and, at the same time, firm. The facts were stacked against him. He offered himself into slavery to the very person who had once been sold into slavery!
We are told that Judah drew out Joseph’s “secret” substantially before he was ready. Judah was pleading for the life of his brother and to an extent, that of his father, who surely would have died if he (thought he) lost Benjamin and Joseph. He measured every word, every gesture and every inflection. Imagine yourself standing in Joseph’s lavish court. The commentators provide us with a colorful portrait of their “confrontation.” Onkelos, the first century commentator tells us that Judah spoke with a pure, clear logic. Every point was supported by the facts and difficult to refute.
The commentators all point out that Judah’s plea for justice has a broad rational accounting for Joseph “revealing” himself, in no particular order: Judah’s flattery, his reassertion to Joseph that they did no wrong, his threat of Jacob’s curse and his willingness to sacrifice his own life for Benjamin’s. Whatever the reason, Joseph reveals himself to his stunned bothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery. Joseph then relates that it was part of the Divine plan. He then sends them back to Canaan loaded with provisions and garments. It is unique to note Benjamin’s garments were more extravagant than the others; this is surprising considering the “coat” of Joseph could not be far from anyone’s memory.
Can you imagine the euphoria of Jacob? Still, we are told he was somewhat reluctant to venture off. Jacob was concerned that a long, harsh exile awaited him and his progeny. He prayed and offered sacrifices, and God answered him with a “vision of the night” symbolizing that the Jews may be exiled from their land, but they would never be exiled from their God. We are told that from the “vision” Jacob originated our evening prayer service (Ma’ariv) so that his children (us) would forever know that the exile/night might be the epilogue to demonstrate that there will be a new day coming, hopefully a better one.
Our society is fraught with mistrust and malice. No place is safe, and each of us may wonder, who can I trust? Judah was straightforward and spoke from his heart (yes, he is the one who threw Joseph into the pit). Can our society learn from Judah and realize that we need to be upfront and honest? I believe that our society can learn much from Judah and less from the likes of Howie Mandel; simply tell the truth and speak from your heart! We must begin to have honest dialogue with each other if we want to repair the issues and wrongs that are going on in our world today. In this way we can hopefully prevent what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in the future.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham