Friday, January 3, 2020

Vayigash: Take Responsibility for the Child!

VAYIGASH -- “and he approached.”
Lots of questions:
  1. The Shaloh hakadosh observed that the name of a parsha embodies the underlying theme of the entire parsha. Why is Yehudah approaching Yoseph so significant? And how does it embody the all-embracing theme of the whole parsha? If anything, it seems to be a trifling detail in the overall dramatic story of Yoseph reuniting with his brothers, and later, with his father, and the entire Children of Israel’s descent to Egypt!
  2. Why had Yosef waited so long to reveal his identity to his brothers? Why hadn’t he done so right when they arrived the first time, presumably many months prior to this point?
  3. Why had Yoseph never attempted to communicate with his father for all the years following his abduction, enslavement and imprisonment in Egypt? Surely once he was freed from prison and elevated to viceroy, he had the ability to send a messenger to Canaan! Instead, nine whole years elapsed from his ascent to power until his brothers arrived in Egypt to purchase grain, and not a single attempt to “phone” home.... and his poor father Yaakov was grieving all the while.
  4. After hearing the happy news and preparing to emigrate to Egypt, why did Yaakov send his son Yehuda to guide the way to Goshen? Didn’t his powerful son Yosef provide royal guides? Our sages explained that Yehuda was sent to establish a house of study that would provide Torah instruction Yaakov’s children and their families (“להורות” from הוראה, teaching). Same question applies: why wouldn’t this important job be given to his far-more-capable son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt!?
  5. What was the purpose of Yosef’s ruse to accuse Binyamin of theft and sentence him to enslavement?
  6. To accomplish this, it’s understood why the silver goblet had to be secretly implanted in Binyamin’s sack, but why did Yosef include Binyamin’s money as well? That wasn’t part of the accusation. Furthermore, why did he return each brother’s monies in his sack this second time?[1] Why was this necessary, and why did the Torah relate this detail again?
Yosef always knew that he and his family were destined to become foreigners in a foreign land, as G-d had foretold his great-grandfather Avraham, and that this exile would last for four hundred years. From his dreams, he also knew he’d someday become the king over his brothers. However, it was never clear to him why this was important[2], or exactly how it would come to pass, until he ascended to power in Egypt. After prophetically interpreting Pharoah’s dreams, Yosef understood that a devastating famine would ravish Egypt and its environs, including the adjacent Land of Canaan. He understood that he was uniquely positioned to sustain his family during the drought, as well as invite them to live in Egypt under his protection, thereby fulfilling the Divine prediction to Avraham under easy and favorable conditions.
However, Yosef was also acutely aware of the purpose of the exile, that is, to transform a tribe of nomadic shepherds into a nation of Israel. A national identity forged in exile necessitates a profound sense of mutual responsibility for one another, not a just a utilitarian pact for reciprocal, quid-pro-quo defense of one’s territory.[3]  Indeed, the only way Yosef could foresee his family surviving a prolonged multigenerational exile in Egypt was if their identity as a people was built on rock-solid commitment to each other.
This was a problem, since Yosef himself had been cruelly abducted and sold to slavery by his own brothers for petty monetary gain[4]. In fact, this dark deed is what precipitated the first progeny of Avraham to descend to exile and Yosef’s ensuing ordeal there.
What’s worse, this crime was a grave betrayal of their own father. How could they possibly perpetuate the legacy of their patriarchs and survive the test of exile with such profound lack of responsibility?
For these reasons, Yosef could not reach out to his father, nor could he even invite them to Egypt once the years of draught commenced. Had he done so, his brothers would never have an opportunity to correct their ways and demonstrate responsibility they had been sorely lacking. As much as he wished to put his father at ease, it would have been to the detriment of the future of klal yisrael.
Hence, Yosef waited. And when his brothers finally arrived to purchase grain, Yosef carefully bided his time until the precise set of circumstances could be designed, such that would present a similar challenge to his brothers that they had experienced and failed twenty-two years before.
This time, the sons of Yaakov again had a younger brother favored and beloved by their father who had entrusted them with his safety. Just like they had viewed seventeen-year-old Yosef as a nuisance and troublemaker, the brothers now perceived Binyamin as a petty thief who had recklessly put them all at risk. Caught red-handed with the silver goblet, Binymain was imputed with the crime of stealing from the Egyptian viceroy, a capital-punishment crime. His fate of remaining a slave to the viceroy was well-deserved, and the brothers could not possibly be blamed for leaving him behind. They had their own families to sustain with the grain they had purchased from Yosef the day before. In fact, the entire transaction was quite profitable for the brothers, as they’d now return to Canaan laden with grain AND their monies intact.[5]
Consequently, they had every reason in the world to bid farewell to their errant brother Binyamin and return to Canaan without him. Their father couldn’t possibly hold them accountable after Binyamin had demonstrably broken the law.
At this dramatic point, Yehuda rises and boldly approaches the Egyptian monarch uninvited.
In an act of selfless devotion and steadfast responsibility, Yehuda went to bat for his brother. Imploring the viceroy to have compassion on the lad, Yehuda stated: “He is beloved by his father, he’s all our father has from his beloved wife. Our father will be devastated by the loss of this child...”
Yehuda continued: “And if you wish to know why I enter the fray while my brothers stand idly in the periphery... I assumed responsibility for the boy from my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him to you, I will have sinned against my father forever.'”
“Let me sit here in the lad’s place as your slave,” Yehuda insisted, “and let the boy return to Canaan with his brothers.”
And then he concluded: “For how shall I ascend to my father if the child is not with me? How can I bear to see the misery that will befall my father?”
Yehuda had proven himself worthy. He had corrected the sin of selling Yosef.
Guided by Yehuda’s resolute commitment for his brothers, the children of Israel could now withstand the trials of exile and prevail. They were finally worthy of peoplehood, G-d's “one nation on earth.”
Finally, Yosef could do what he had yearning to do for 22 years, to reunite with his father and brothers. For now he could finally fulfill the purpose of his dreams and sustain his people in exile in the process of ultimately leaving with material and spiritual great wealth in return to Canaan, as G-d had promised Avraham.
Now we understand the awesome import of the parshah’s name, “Vayigash -- And he approached.” Yehuda fearlessly approached the Egyptian monarch, without asking permission and without being summoned. It was his own bold initiative. He refused to sit by complacently as his little brother is prevented from returning to his father, even if his brother may not necessarily have been guiltless himself. Unwavering commitment for a fellow Jew lies at the very core of Judaism, Yahadut, aptly named after Yehudah and his hoda’ah, his selfless bittul to stand up for his fellow.
Vayigash” -- Yehuda’s bold and selfless approach – verily expresses the all-embracing theme of this parshah, the consummate reconciliation with Yosef and readiness to commence the Egyptian exile, a necessary step to achieve their destiny as the nation of Israel.
This boldness and audacity have preserved us for millennia. Mordechai would not kneel or bow before Haman, guided by this commitment. The Maccabees stood up to the mighty Greeks emboldened by this same yiddishe shtoltz. In recent times, the previous Rebbe, R’ Yoseph Yitzchok Schneersohn, fearlessly stood up to Stalinist Russia in defense of the education of Jewish children. In our times, our Rebbe’s uncompromising steadfastness in his devotion to worldwide Jewry has inspired an entire generation. True Geon Yaakov. A Jew is not intimidated by velt. To the contrary, when Jew stands firm and approaches the non-Jewish authorities, the latter will acknowledge his rectitude, the yid’s balebatishkeit over velt.
On the fifth of Teves, we celebrate the victory of the Rebbe’s sefarim being returned to their rightful owners, all Chabad chassidim. This came about due to the Rebbe’s bold insistence to assert the truth in secular court. The avoda of “Vayigash eilav Yehuda,” to boldly approach the powers that be and insist upon what’s right, in this case the pidyon shvuim of the seforim of Raboseinu n’seeyeinu... it revealed that federal court acknowledged this truth.
It’s no coincidence that we celebrate the pidyon shvuim of the sefarim in the week when we read about Vayigash eilov Yehuda to bring about the pidyon shvuim of Binyamin[6].
The lesson for our times is unmistakable:
Just as the very first exile of our people could not commence until Yehudah demonstrated true responsibility for another Jew, so too our generation is presently faced with this very same challenge, at the very end of the final exile.
The Binyamins of our times are the hundreds and thousands of Jewish children whom the state has deemed undeserving to attend school and yeshivas.
Of course, this isn’t an actual safety issue, as some speciously claim. That is absolute nonsense, as everyone knows that these healthy children pose a threat to no one. Moreoever, a child is banned from school simply for not having been vaccinated for Hepatitis B, an STD which cannot be spread through casual contact. Clearly, this is about the state enforcing a policy, not about actual safety. (It’s all a carefully designed hoax, much like Yosef’s implanted silver goblet).
Nevertheless, Jewish schools throughout NY State and elsewhere have willingly complied with this unjust policy. When I ask the schools’ rabbinic advisors: “How dare you ban a Jewish child from learning Torah? Where have you found a basis for this in shulchan aruch?”, they invariably respond that they cannot ask a school to defy state law or medical policy. Further, they counter that the school will lose state funding and face legal consequences if they accept unvaccinated children.
“But what about the child!?” I demand. “Who is taking responsibility for this child who sits at home, or worse, who is in public school!?”
The rabbi answers: “It’s the parents’ fault. They chose not to vaccinate in defiance of state law. It’s their own fault the child is out of school.”
To you rabbis, I say:
Yehuda has every right to say the same excuse to his father, Yaakov Avinu: “Sorry Abba, but it’s Binyamin’s own fault. He chose to recklessly steal the viceroy’s goblet. It serves him right to become a slave.”
Surely Yehuda and his brothers could have thought to themselves: “Well, we received a hefty sum of money in our sacks from this profitable grain transaction. Why should we jeopardize it all by sticking up for this kid who won’t comply with state law?”
NO! Yehuda said no such thing. He refused to stand by complacently and accept the viceroy’s decree, even if it were true that Binyamin had broken the law. Yehuda couldn’t possibly cooperate, because HE WAS RESPONSIBLE for this child.
Vayigash eilav Yehuda – without hesitating Yehuda approached the head-of-state and demanded that the child be permitted to return to his school, to the tutelage of Yaakov Avinu.
“כי איך אעלה אל אבי והנער איננו אתי -- How can I possibly ascend to my father and the child is not with me!?” Yehuda cried.
Rabbis... where is your Geon Yaakov? Where is your yiddishe shtoltz to stand up for a Jewish child!?
Instead, you abandoned him, sent him home to suffer in silence.
How can you leave a child behind, bar him from the life-giving waters of Torah, condemn him to a life of ignorance and detachment from his Father in Heaven? How can you face Hashem and the child is not with you!? ונפשו קשורה בנפשו -- this single child is beloved to Hashem like the apple of His eye... how dare you neglect him!?
Have we learned nothing in the past 3,500 years since the original Vayigash eilav Yehuda?
It’s time for you to stand up to your state, to whomever is dictating this draconian, unjust medical policy, and speak up.
Do not abdicate your responsibility. Don’t delegate this job to someone else. You are the Yehudas here. By becoming the rabbi, posek, or administrator for a yeshiva, you assumed responsibility to educate Jewish children just like Yehuda did for Binyamin.  אנוכי אערבנו, מידי תבקשנו... You are the one who is fully accountable when children in your community are wrongly prevented from learning Torah.
Please, do not perpetuate the sin of selling Yosef. Don’t sell these innocent children in exchange for state funding, as enticing as it might be. Instead, stand up in their defense. Refuse to remain quiet as long as one single Binyamin is banned from his heritage, מורשה קהילת יעקב, the Torah that belongs to the entire congregation of Yaakov.
Approach your state like Yehuda approached the mighty viceroy of Egypt, with the same courage and confrontational audacity. Demand that these children be allowed to return to school where they belong.
Realize that even if the child and his parents might in fact be in defiance of a law, the law itself is unjust and halachically-untenable.
The reality was that not only was Binyamin innocent of any wrongdoing, the very purpose that he had been indicted for theft was to afford the brothers the opportunity to prove themselves and demonstrate true responsibility for him, refusing to abandon him in Egypt. This awesome opportunity enabled them to expiate themselves and prove themselves worthy to be part of a Nation of Israel that is founded on mutual responsibility.
Likewise, in our present times: not only are these families not being reckless, they are granting you the opportunity to stand up and protest this morally-indefensible law in the first place. By doing so, they are enabling all of us to speak out against the injustice of mandatory vaccine policy altogether. And perhaps, just perhaps, they are helping to protect us all by alerting us to the risk factors of some of these vaccines that the state and media attempt to suppress.
Instead of marginalizing them, we owe these children and their families a huge debt of gratitude, in addition to a huge apology for having indifferently abandoned them all these months.
So in the spirit of Vayigash eilav Yehuda, let’s boldly approach our elected officials and assert the truth, that every Jewish child is entitled to a Torah education as his/her inviolable right, and that we may NOT discriminate unfairly against unvaccinated children. Tell your state that you will NOT abandon this child and insist on his right to return to school at once.
It’s time to demand the pidyon shvuim of the Binyamins of our generation, the final generation of exile and the first generation of redemption.
Ad mosai!?
We demand the pidyon shvuim of the Rebbe’s sefarim to 770, and we demand the pidyon shvuim of yaldei yisrael back to their school and yeshivas.
We demand true Jewish leadership from our rabbis and school administrators.
It’s time we have some fearless Yehudas who will demonstrate bold commitment to every single Jewish child without exception. The viceroys want to hear that from us. The state is waiting to hear that from us. They will acknowledge the truth. They are simply waiting for us to demand it.
And then we’ll be able to honestly declare: “Didan notzach -- victory is ours.”
Happy Hey Teves, and may we merit immediate redemption.[7]

1.  Perhaps the first time their monies were returned, Yosef’s objective was to cause them initial anxiety and then to assuage their fears after they returned. However, the second time (Gen 44:1), why was there any need to do this? The plan was for them return once Benjamin was apprehended with the stolen silver goblet! What difference would it make if their monies were returned or not?
2. This also explains why Yaakov favored his son Yoseph above all his other sons even at the risk of provoking the brothers’ enmity. Yaakov saw great leadership qualities in Yosef that equipped him to face off with the wicked Eisav and other worldly foes. Furthermore, Yaakov saw in Yosef an ability to interface with the outside world and transform it, unlike his brothers who were ascetic shepherds. Consequently, Yaakov hoped Yosef would indeed lead his brothers and empower them to withstand and prevail over the trials of exile.
3. That's why Moshe feared when Dasan and Aviram wished to malign him to Pharaoh. Once he saw that unscrupulous informers exist in Israel, he wondered whether they were worthy to be redeemed (Rashi on Shemot 2:14). Since they lacked basic concern for one another, they hadn’t attained the purpose of exile.
4. For twenty silver pieces with which to purchase shoes. See Midrash Tanchuma Vayeshev chapter 2, Pirki Drebbi Eliezer chapter 37.
5. Of course, they discovered that their money was intact when Yosef’s search team went through their belongings in search of the goblet. According to Ramban, they had been told before they took leave from Yosef that he returned their money to them, presumably as a kind gesture after he had suspected them of espionage and treated them so harshly during their previous visit to Egypt.
6. In the most recent farbrengen of Parshas Vayigash, 5752, the Rebbe highlighted the theme of Vayigash eilav Yehuda and its connection to 5 Teves, and the practical instruction to buy new seforim in order to hasten the pidyon shvuim of the rest of the Rebbe’s seforim, and the ultimate pidyon shvuim of all sparks of holiness with the return of klal yisroel, all yidden and every single yid, with all his/her seforim and wealth, etc.,  to Yerushalayim to the third Holy Temple, teikef umiyad mamosh.
7. Redemption of the thousands of Jewish children who are still out of school nationwide, and the redemption of klal yisroel.


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