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Parshat Vayigash (5760)

This week's section speaks of the reuniting of Yosef and his brothers.

The majority of the portion is only dialogue with very little action or change of scenery. But there is much to be learned here.

The joke is told about a Rabbi that loved to play golf. One Yom Kippur (Holiest day of the year, lit. the 'Day of Forgiveness') he's sitting in his seat in the front of the huge congregation listening to the Cantor when he suddenly gets this big urge to go golfing (which is forbidden on Yom Kippur for about ten reasons).

He tries to dismiss the thought, to think of something else but to no avail; his body and his whole being is longing for the game. He knows that nothing will help. Without thinking too much he stands up and silently slips out the door, next to his place, which leads to his study. Closing the door behind him, he removes his prayer shawl, quickly takes his wallet out of his desk drawer, slips it into his pocket as he opens the back door and is outside.

The sun is shining brightly, a beautiful day as he briskly walks to the corner, takes a quick turn down the next block and, still walking, not looking back, removes his yarmulke, puts it in his pocket, puts on a pair of shades and flags down a cab, "Country Club Golf Course please, and step on it if you can!"

A half hour later there he is, teeing off on the first of eighteen holes… and he FEELS GREAT! The wind is at his back, the sky is clear as he swings back and…WOW!! What a drive!!!! He can't believe it as he watches the ball fly like a missile until he can't see it anymore. "Wow! Wow!" he keeps saying to himself as he jumps into his golf cart and heads toward the hole "What a drive! What a drive!" Yes, dear readers it was a hole in one. And so it was on the second hole and the third and the fourth, in fact it was the perfect game. NEVER had such a game been played in the history of golf; eighteen holes in eighteen strokes!!!!

Meanwhile in heaven, the angels were going wild, and their dissatisfaction reached G-d Himself. "Can it be that a Jew, a RABBI yet, transgresses the holiest day and gets such a reward?" The voice of HaShem thundered in reply "What reward? What are you angels talking about? Reward? Ha Ha! I just gave him the worst punishment of all, hell on earth! … It's true that he got eighteen holes-in-one, but who is he going to tell about it?"

This joke doesn't have much to do with this weeks segment but I think it is a good joke. It shows that sometimes kindness can be the worst punishment for sinners.

The fact that HaShem is so forgiving may, on one hand, encourage transgression, but on the other hand, it leaves a big door open for self-improvement, and that is the worst punishment for the sinner, to become a different person; the sinner in him dies.

And now when a person does repent, he does it for the right reason; not so much from fear of punishment as from the shame of the fact that he, so-to-speak "spit in HaShem's face" i.e. he repaid the infinite Good of HaShem with his own evil. The result is that one changes not only in accordance with G-d's might and scariness (by turning from evil), but also tries to repay HaShem's kindness by doing more good.

So was Yosef's motivation in this weeks Torah reading.

But first let us analyze the behavior of Yosef's brother Yehuda. In the beginning of this week's reading, Yehuda suddenly approaches Yosef and begins to speak forcefully, and Rashi explains that Yehuda was ready for war.

If you think of it, this it is very strange. Where did Yehuda get the Chutzpa to approach Yosef without permission and consider fighting him and his entire army? He was outnumbered a million to one! The medrash relates that even Yosef alone demonstrated that he was stronger than Yehuda so how did Yehuda rush in to a place where even his brothers didn't think of going.

The Lubavitch Rebbe explains that Yehuda derived his courage from the fact that earlier he had promised his father that he would be a guarantor for his youngest brother Benyamin, and any time that a Jew or anyone works for the sake of his 'brother', especially a child especially a Jewish child, he is given extra powers from G-d.
The Rebbe continues that this is the main obligation of our generation; to be guarantors for the children, that they receive a proper Jewish education; that they know that G-d is the King of the Universe and everything in it, and when a child makes a blessing, for example, on even something as simple as a piece of fruit, all the angels in all the upper worlds listen because it gives pleasure to the King, how much more so if he does a mitzvah or a good deed. And if we take this upon ourselves we will be given special energy and blessing to succeed much as Yehuda did.

Next let us return to Yosef:

To refresh the memory of the reader, the last picture the Torah gives us of the previous meeting of Yaakov's sons is of them throwing their brother Yosef into a pit full of scorpions and serpents.

This week, however, the situation has been reversed; Yosef is now sitting on a throne as the ruler of Egypt (and the rest of world) and the same brothers (who do not yet recognize him) are at his feet and at his mercy.

But instead of unleashing upon them the revenge that they well deserve, Yosef does the opposite; he first brings them to regret their past deeds and then showers kindness upon them.

This unnatural conduct is brought in the Zohar and explained in the holy book the Tanya (end of the twelfth chapter) as the best example of how to fulfill the Mitzva of Loving others as yourself, namely to never even THINK of revenge, but rather to do good to even those that you are justified in harming. The secret, explains the Tanya, is to try to emulate Yosef; be really concerned about what G-d wants and not so much about you want. As it says in 'Pirke Avot' "Make your will like His will"

I think that this is the meaning of the question that Yosef asks his brothers immediately after he reveals his true identity to them: "Is my father still alive?"

Now if you think about it, it makes no sense. In the end of last week's section (42: 27&28) it relates that only a short time earlier he asked his brothers the same question "Is your father all right, is he still alive?" and they answered in the affirmative! Can it be that Yosef had such a short memory?

I think that the reason that he asked again is because he wanted to say the word "MY" 'my father'. Now that he no longer had to hide himself from his brothers he could finally call his father MINE, and that is a world of difference from saying "Your father"

So it is also with the service of HaShem. All the time that G-d is in the books, in the heavens, in the place of worship, with the Rabbis etc. we don't really get very excited or concerned about what He wants, it's sort of like saying 'Your father', then what really ends up interesting us is what WE want, then it is very possible to hate someone unnecessarily.

But when we begin to really take the whole thing seriously, that HaShem really creates us, the Torah is really His will, the tzadkim are HaShem's gift to the world, the Moshiach, who will unite all the Jews, will really be a human being and he is here in every generation, then we can begin to say 'My father'. Only then will it really be possible to love our fellow man, even the 'bad' guys, and really learn from the example of Yosef.

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