Parshat Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27
As we close out the year, we also draw to a close the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Even though we have one more parshah to finish the book, this week’s portion marks the dramatic climax of a dramatic narrative. The story of Joseph and his brothers has played for longer than any other in the Bible, more than 10 chapters.
We also open Parshat Vayigash with what Torah commentator Nehama Lebowitz notes is the longest oration in Genesis. This is a passionate plea by Judah for his brother Benjamin’s freedom. It’s the ultimate irony since he is making the case before the brother who himself was enslaved. This precipitates the outburst by Joseph.
Now all parties — Joseph, his brothers and later their father, Jacob —almost reluctantly come to grips with the truth and new reality. After 20-plus years of hiding from and shading the truth, the truth finally comes to light. But there is reluctance since they have lived their world view for all this time, as perpetrators, victim, mourner, and it takes time to change.
These themes of light and change and reconciliation are not only in these chapters, they are emblematic of the season. From Thanksgiving through the end of the year, it seems like all are converging.
This is not just a modern commercial concept. After all, the Festival of Light was not a Madison Avenue creation but a term by Josephus describing Chanukah. We are very aware of the shorter days, and we hope for a brighter future.
Now, as we approach the secular New Year, it can feel like deja vu all over again. I already examined, I already evaluated, I already promised during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Overly high expectations, making comparisons and resolutions again seems unfair. It’s easy to slip into a funk this time of year.
Though the Joseph story has a beautiful high note, life goes on, and I’m sure there are bumps in family relations and leftover feelings just as in our lives. Even with his son, Jacob, alive and the family settled in a safe land, Jacob tells Pharoah a few pages later, “Few and evil have been the days of my years of life.”
There’s one more theme running through the season, and this week’s portion we might find uplifting: Judah, one of the brothers with the most favorable character, has as the root of his name the Hebrew word for giving thanks.
Thanksgiving, Judah Maccabee, Judah. For that matter, it’s from the tribe of Judah that we derive the word Jew. As always, that’s what we do in every service in synagogue. A little more mindfulness when we say them might help us weather the season if there are any bumps (or snow drifts) along the road.
Cantor Henry Shapiro is the spiritual leader at Parkway Jewish Center.