Double Mitzvah – Vayigash

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Maya B. Alma. Maya B. Alma is Jewrotica’s new Double Mitzvah columnist!

Check out our recent column, Double Mitzvah – Vayeshev.


Rated PGAfter a week away from “Double Mitzvah” (I fell into a Thanksgivukah hole, I guess you’d say), we return to find the Torah’s attention still fixed squarely on Joseph. Freed from prison, he’s become Pharaoh’s right-hand man, guiding Egypt’s farm policy during a seven-year period of plenty, and into the ensuing years of famine. His brothers have come in search of food. He knows them; they don’t recognize him. On their first visit to purchase food, Joseph imprisons his brother Simeon. On a later visit, he frames his brother Benjamin for theft and threatens to keep him in Egypt — a development that would cause Jacob to die of a broken heart. Last week’s parashah closes on an ominous note, with Joseph telling the brothers to “go in peace,” while leaving Benjamin behind.

And then, Judah steps up. His “stepping up” is the act that gives the parashah its name, Vayigash, “he approached”. Here’s how this week’s parashah opens:

18 Then Judah approached him and said, “Please, my lord, let Your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, You who are the equal of Pharaoh. 19 My lord asked his servants, ‘Have you a father or another brother?’ 20 We told my lord, ‘We have an old father, and there is a child of his old age, the youngest; his full brother is dead, so that he alone is left of his mother, and his father dotes on him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, that I may set eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he were to leave him, his father would die.’ 23 But you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, do not let me see your faces.’ 24 When we came back to Your servant my father, we reported my lord’s words to him.

25 “Later our father said, ‘Go back and procure some food for us.’ 26 We answered, ‘We cannot go down; only if our youngest brother is with us can we go down, for we may not show our faces to the man unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Your servant my father said to us, ‘As you know, my wife bore me two sons. 28 But one is gone from me, and I said: Alas, he was torn by a beast! And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me, too, and he meets with disaster, you will send my white head down to Sheol in sorrow.’

30 “Now, if I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us — since his own life is so bound up with his — 31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will send the white head of your servant our father down to Sheol in grief. 32 Now your servant has pledged himself for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I shall stand guilty before my father forever.’ 33 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. 34 For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!”

Judah’s soliloquy (it’s hard not to read the entire Joseph saga in dramatic terms) is the turning point in the story. It disarms Joseph, removes his mask. In approaching his brother so directly and honestly, he brings redemption to his family. Joseph weeps in response to Judah’s words, and he reveals himself to his brothers. As the parashah progresses, he is reunited with his father and the portion ends with us learning that the family has settled in Goshen, a region whose very name resonates with the name of the parashah, a “Place of Approaching.”

I combed this parashah looking for obviously Jewrotica-worthy material, with little success. Nothing very sexy going on here, at least at first glance.

There is, however, a beautiful idiom which appears here, and in (as far as I can tell) one other place in the Tanakh. It is in Genesis 44:30 (above), when Judah describes the special bond between Jacob and Benjamin: nafsho keshurah benafsho. “His soul is bound up in his soul.” What a beautiful turn of phrase! What an apt way to describe love!

The idiom appears again in I Samuel 18:1, where the “soulbinding” reference is to Jonathan and David. From this, we may surmise that it’s not a connection limited to the parent-child bond. Whatever one’s opinion about the nature of Jonathan and David’s relationship (beliefs run the gamut, with plenty of thinkers over the centuries seeing them as more than “just friends”), it’s plain that they were not related by blood.

To be “soul-bound” in this way is a gift, a blessing. Not every relationship rises to this level, nor should it. Our more casual friendships — the people who come in and out of our lives, or who are a part of them in specific ways — are important. But I imagine that many of us can set our thoughts on a person, or a small number of people, of whom it is right to say, “my soul is bound up with his, or with hers, or theirs.” Parents with children, perhaps, or maybe a close sibling. Maybe it’s the soulmate you’ve been together with for decades; maybe it’s a love that’s just getting underway. Perhaps there’s a romantic/physical component, or maybe the friendship is of the platonic sort.

I intend to take a moment on this Shabbat (and not just on this Shabbat!) to think about, and nurture, those soul-connected relationships. I hope you’ll join me.

Shabbat Shalom.

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