TORAH COMMENTARY – Neal Borovitz
D'var Torah Parshat Vayigash
In memory of the Newtown 26
The setting of this week's Torah portion is the decisive moment in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, the still disguised brother, has taken his brother Benjamin as a captive and offered to let the other 10 brothers return home. Twenty-two years earlier they had sold Joseph into slavery. Would they again desert a brother?
The Parasha opens with the words: "Vayigash alav Yehudah.” Then Judah approached him (Joseph)." According to a Midrash from B'reshit Rabba, the term, “Vayigash” can be understood in three different ways based upon its usage elsewhere in the Bible.
· In II Samuel 10:13 we read "Vayigash Yoav v'haam asher imo l'milchama: Yoab and the people (Vayigash) approached ready to do battle."
· In Joshua 14:6 we read "Vayigshu v'nai yehuda el yehoshua” : And the children of Judah approached Joshua to seek reconciliation."
· In I Kings 18:36 we read "Vayigash eliyahu hanavi vayomer”: And eliyahu hanavi approached God in prayer "
Our Rabbis teach us that Judah approached the man whom he believed to be the Prince of Egypt ready to do battle, willing to seek reconciliation and confident that with God's help he would redeem his kid brother Benjamin.
Joseph and his brothers are not the first Biblical siblings to find themselves in conflict. In the opening drama of the Bible, Cain and Abel were unable to get along. After Cain killed his brother in a jealous rage God confronted him with the question: "Where is your Brother?" Cain responded with a question: "Am I my Brother's keeper?" Judah's plea on behalf of Benjamin is a powerful response to Cain's question. Judah, the brother from whom the communal name JEW is derived, is the one brother who ("Vayigash") comes forward ready to do battle, yet is also willing to seek a negotiated resolution on behalf of his brother I thought about this Biblical scenario a lot this past week after the horror of Newtown, Conn.
Judah's willingness to stand up for his little brother is his response to the underlying question of the Book of Genesis: “Am I my brothers' keeper?”
Fast forwarded to 21st century America and this Biblical rhetorical question is translated into grim reality as it was last Friday in Newtown and now reads: Am I and are We going to limit our rights under the Second Amendment by banning the sale of assault weapons and automatic handguns or are we going to once again mourn the dead victims and proclaim our powerlessness to do anything about it?
You and I can speak for the now silenced 20 children and 6 teachers and school officials by signing on to the petition (see above) that calls upon Congress to take real action against the proliferation of guns in our society. Signing on to this petition will affirm that the reason that we call ourselves Jews after our patriarch Judah is because in this story Judah stands up to power and takes responsibility for speaking for his voiceless younger brother. In addition to signing this online statement, you and I can do even more simply by personally picking up the phone or emailing our senators and our local congressmen and, in the spirit of Judah, pleading with them assertively to make gun control, and particularly the banning of these assault rifles and automatic handguns whose only purpose and use is to murder people, the law of our land.
"Vayigash alav" the level of activity versus passivity with which each of us responds to this tragedy could very well determine whether the horror of Newtown is visited upon another town and that new town could be our town. May each of us and all of us Vayigash approach the seat of power in our society as a true child of Judah and speak out for the 20 children and their teachers whose voices have been silenced by the sound of guns and by the silence of our society.