In parashat Vayigash, we witness the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers and the reunion between Joseph and his father Jacob. The dramatic tension that began in parashat Vayeishev is now resolved. The chosen family is once again whole, and Jacob can finally look forward to devoting the remainder of his life to preparing them for their destiny—becoming the nation worthy of receiving the Torah, their tool and guidebook for fulfilling the ultimate goal of creation: transforming the world into God's intended home.

In addition, there is a significant subplot that is also resolved in this parashah: the ideological conflict between Joseph, on the one hand, and his brothers (led by Judah), on the other.

The spiritual conflict between Joseph and Judah centered around whose approach would more effectively serve the cause of disseminating Divine consciousness. Joseph favored engaging the world proactively, utilizing its institutions, culture, technology, and emotional energy for holy purposes. His brothers, led by Judah, preferred to shun the world and its attendant enticements and pitfalls, instead opting to devote themselves to the ongoing task of augmenting their own holiness, thereby inspiring the rest of the world to eventually join them and emulate them. The distinct preferences of Joseph and his brothers were reflected in their professions: whereas Joseph became a skilled administrator and statesman, intensely involved with material matters, his brothers became shepherds, barely mingling with society and having ample time to meditate on the grandeur of nature and commune with God.

Although each of these approaches possesses its unique advantages, Jacob clearly preferred Joseph's, as we have seen. But while Jacob was correct in recognizing that Joseph's approach is more vital in winning the struggle against the world's anti-Divine bias, Judah's approach is just as essential, and is, in fact, complementary to Joseph's.

The shortcoming in Joseph's approach is that it leaves too much room for vainglory. No matter how great our dedication to God and to carrying out the mission with which He entrusted us, the fact that we must employ our own intelligence, creativity, cunning, initiative, and courage to accomplish our lofty goals can leave us with an inflated sense of self-satisfaction. Aside from its intrinsic detrimental effect on our spiritual growth and on our relationship with God, this self-satisfaction also thwarts our chances of success in disseminating Divine consciousness, for even an ever-so-subtle presence of ego within our own psyche prevents us from recognizing it in our environment and eradicating it. This was the inner, spiritual reason, as we shall see, why Joseph was unable to appropriate the lands of the idolatrous priests when he acquired ownership of the whole kingdom of Egypt.1

Judah, in contrast, personified the selfless aspiration to become absorbed into the presence of God. When we adopt his attitude, our interactions with the world are then characterized by self-sacrifice—the devotion to God's will with no thought of personal aggrandizement nor concern over possible personal repercussions. The synthesis of Judah's selflessness and Joseph's prowess thus enables us to exercise all our God-given gifts without falling prey to pernicious self-satisfaction.

This is why this parashah is entitled Vayigash ("he approached"), referring to how Judah approached Joseph. In order to ensure success in our mission, we, as Josephs, must allow ourselves to be approached and complemented by Judah.

As we have seen, the reason Jacob favored Joseph and his qualities over Judah and his was because he understood that Joseph's qualities would provide the Jewish people with the abilities they would need to survive, flourish, and accomplish their goals during their long journey toward the messianic future. Once that ultimate goal is reached, however, it will no longer be necessary to give preeminence to Joseph and his approach, for Judah's selflessness will then be our dominant consciousness. This is why Judah is the direct ancestor of the Messiah—it is specifically his quality that will lead us out of the mindset of exile into that of Redemption.

In fact, as we near the Redemption, the balance between Joseph and Judah tips steadily in favor of Judah. On the one hand, we see that the world, with the passage of time, is becoming increasingly receptive to the message of Judaism; in parallel, the obstacles that made Jewish life so difficult in so many parts of the world for so long are disappearing. On the other hand, the more evil senses that its end is near, the more its opposition to holiness becomes increasingly fierce; therefore, anti-Semitism and vituperative anti-religiosity are also on the rise, not to mention the increasing seductiveness of all forms of material indulgence. In such times, our only defense is a healthy dose of Judah's sense of self-sacrifice.

To be sure, self-sacrifice has been essential to us throughout our long exile; without it, we would have scarcely survived exile's horrors. Moreover, the earnest dedication to fulfilling God's will through the performance of His commandments is what has gradually but steadily refined material reality to the point where the world is now ripe for the new order that will be ushered in by the Redemption. In this sense, Judah's approaching Joseph presaged the Redemption: when he approached Joseph, he did not know he was his brother, but by demanding ethical behavior from the person he presumed to be an immoral despot, Judah caused the truth to be revealed. Similarly, when we stubbornly insist on following the Torah's standards of ethical and moral behavior, even when doing so is ridiculed by our cultural milieu, society eventually accedes and, as Pharaoh did with Jacob's family, even aids us in fulfilling our Divine mission.

The lesson to be learned from parashat Vayigash is thus that we must maintain the proper balance between creativity and selflessness, always remembering that the key to overcoming both our general and personal exile is to cultivate the mindset of Redemption. Not shying away from our destiny but rather assuming our roles as the Torah's representatives to the world will both enable us to survive the exile and hasten the Redemption, thereby bringing true unity and peace to the entire world.2