What is more important, the simple action, or the meaning behind the action? This is one of the topics hidden in this week's Torah reading, Vayigash. Joseph is the viceroy of all Egypt. His brothers who sold him into slavery are now standing before him, pleading for the life of Benjamin, the only full brother of Joseph. How was Benjamin saved? The week's reading begins: "And Judah drew near to him," that is, to Joseph.

Judah and Joseph represent two aspects of the Jewish people, two different lines of power. King Saul, the first Jewish king, was descended from Benjamin, the full brother of Joseph. But Saul's line of kingship was replaced by that of King David and his son Solomon, the descendants of Judah.

Then at a later stage there was again a division. When Solomon passed away the kingdom split in two: the Northern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah. The Southern Kingdom was focused on Jerusalem and the descendants of David and Solomon who reigned there, representing Judah. By contrast, the Northern Kingdom relates to Joseph.1 Eventually the divisive behavior of the Jewish people led to the destruction of the two Temples and the dispersion of the Jews.

A further idea is that Judah and Joseph express two different approaches to life. This is based on kabbalistic concepts. Joseph, the ninth sefirah (Divine Attribute), "Foundation," represents overt feeling and responsiveness, a sense of meaning. Judah, the tenth sefirah, "Kingship" or "Fulfilment," expresses simple action.

Which is more important? We need feeling and responsiveness. We are constantly searching for a sense of meaning and for sincere emotion. The problem is that if we base our lives only on the things to which we can easily respond we may miss some very important connections.

Chassidic teachings explain that when a person carries out a good deed, a mitzvah, the inner soul always does respond. The soul is in touch with the Divine and can relate directly to the Divine quality of the mitzvah. But the conscious mind of the person may be far away; it is as yet not sensitive enough. Nonetheless, the mitzvah must be carried out, for the sake of the person's inner reality and his or her purpose in the universe.

This shows us the power of Judah: simple action. Judah has to draw near to Joseph and in fact he has to be stronger than Joseph. The simple power of action has to be seen and has to operate in our lives. Then, gradually, we can educate our conscious mind to understand and to respond, to reach the quality of Joseph.2

The week's haftorah3 speaks of the time when the two kingdoms of ancient Israel will again be joined: Judah and Joseph will be one. This means, on one level, that in the time of the Messiah, the Jewish people will be truly united.

On another level, it means that action and meaning will be joined. The dislocation between the body and soul will be healed. This points the way to bring freedom for Benjamin and for everyone else. When there is the right balance between action and meaning, there is unity within any one person. From being unified as individuals, we can more easily join with others. And unity among the Jewish people will ultimately bring unity and peace to the entire world.