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Vayigash – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Joseph story fills the last 4 chapters of Bereishit. This week, Vayigash, is the longest of them all. In the Torah scroll there are no paragraph breaks since we read Miketz last week.

We continue the story as Jacob stands before Joseph to plead for Benjamin. The Sedra starts with the words

וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה
Judah approached him

The word “vayigash” only appears 3 times in our texts. Firstly when Abraham approaches God to question the destruction of Sodom: secondly, here, with Judah approaching Joseph whom he does not recognise. We hear it again at the 3rd time when Elijah calls on God as he steps forward to contest with the priests of Baal. In our own times, before beginning the Amidah, (the “standing prayer.”) it is our custom to take three steps forward: symbolising a formal approach to the Divine presence.

The Sedra begins with a dramatic climax to the story that began in last week’s Parashah, Moved by Judah’s emotional and passionate appeal for Benjamin’s freedom, in return for which he declares himself ready to take Benjamin’s place as a slave, Joseph reveals his identity. It raises many questions.

Why did Joseph, now a powerful Visier in Egypt, not seek out his father earlier? Why does he persist in deceiving his brothers to get his hands on Benjamin? Where was any sense of compassion? Judah has matured; Joseph’s destiny is in Egypt. Jacob does not go directly to Egypt as we might expect but to Beersheva where he is told by God in a dream

אַל־תִּירָא֙ מֵֽרְדָ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יְמָה כִּֽי־לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל אֲשִֽׂימְךָ֥ שָֽׁם
Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.

He sends Judah ahead of him to Goshen where midrash explains he was to set up schools for the children - to secure the future. Jacob understood that the future would not be in Egypt but in our adherence to the covenant made with Abraham.

The name of any Jewish community should be preceded by a double “Khaf” קּּקּ(the abbreviation of the words “Kahal Kodesh”; a holy congregation.)

“Chabad,” which we today associate with the Lubavitch strand of Judaism is an acronym: standing for the initial letters of the three virtues, chokhmah, binah and da’at, “wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

It is not in physical places and structures that we survive but in communities for which we have the wisdom, understanding and knowledge to secure.

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