Parshat Vayigash deals primarily with the events surrounding
Jacob’s arrival in Egypt. After many tribulations, Joseph reconciles with his
brothers, Jacob arrives in Egypt and finally reunites with Joseph, and the
story comes to a close. By the time we reach Parshat Vayechi, we are
already dealing with Jacob’s death and his final reckoning with his sons.
a rule, the haftarah
traditionally associated with each parshah emphasizes the central elements of that parshah as
understood by our sages, and in effect constitutes a form of interpretation of
the entire parshah.
Sometimes the connection between the haftarah and parshah is clear and obvious, and sometimes it is so
remote that, in order to understand why the sages paired a particular haftarah
with a particular parshah,
one must sit down and think. In the case of the haftarah associated with Parshat Noach, for example, the only similarity to the parshah
seems to be the appearance of the words “the waters of Noah.”
When there are divergent opinions and customs regarding which haftarah we
read – as in the cases of Parshat Vayishlach
or Parshat Vayeitzei,
for example – these disputes usually revolve around the question of
what the parshah’s
essential point is.
essence of Parshat
Vayigash would appear to be the descent to Egypt, but the haftarah,
which relates Ezekiel’s prophecy of the stick of Judah and the stick of
Ephraim, shifts the focus away from this subject to the meeting, or perhaps
clash, of Joseph and Judah. This, according to the haftarah, is the essence of
everything else is ancillary material.
Judah and Joseph
The Joseph-Judah relationship and the points at
which their paths converge continue throughout history. From the sale of Joseph
onward, Judah and Joseph constantly interact with each other, and their relationship
continues in various forms. Here, in Parshat Vayigash, their interaction is a confrontation,
as the Midrash comments, “‘Then Judah went up to him’ – advancing
to battle.” The
Midrash views this confrontation as a momentous event, adding, “‘For lo, the
kings converged’ – this
refers to Judah and Joseph; ‘they grew angry together’ – this
one was filled with anger for that one, and that one was filled with anger for
This is an epic clash between two kings, one that continues to occur in various
forms throughout history.
are times and places where the Joseph-Judah relationship is one of cooperation
and even love. In the battle against Amalek, the leadership of the People of
Israel consists of Moses, Aaron, and two other people: Chur, a member of the tribe of
Judah, stands by Moses’ side opposite Aaron, while Joshua, from the tribe of
Joseph, leads the actual war. This connection appears again in the story of the
spies, where Joshua and Caleb are the only two spies who refrain from
“spreading calumnies about the land.”
Moses himself is connected by blood to the tribe of Judah (Aaron married the
sister of the tribe’s prince, Nachshon
the son of Aminadav, and Miriam, Chur’s
mother, was married to Caleb the son of Yefuneh). On the other hand,
Joshua – of the tribe of Joseph – is his close disciple.
duality does not end there but continues through the generations. The Shiloh
Tabernacle stood in the territory of Ephraim for over 300 years, whereas the
Temple was built in Jerusalem, on the border of the territories of Judah and
The dirges of Ezekiel
feature the sisters Ohola and Oholiva, who correspond to the kingdoms of Judah
and Israel: “Ohola is Samaria, and Oholiva is Jerusalem.”
In the royal house, although Saul is not from a tribe of Joseph, he is a
descendant of Joseph’s mother Rachel, while David is from the tribe of Judah.
The encounter between them is one of antagonism, but, as if to balance out that
animosity, we read of a parallel and opposite relationship: the friendship and
love between Jonathan and David. There is Joshua and there is Caleb; the tribe
of Judah and the tribes of Joseph; the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of
Israel; David and Jonathan. We see that this duality is woven throughout our
history, to the point that we ourselves are an example of it: The Jewish people
today consists solely of descendants of Judah and Benjamin.
complicated relationship between Joseph and Judah, in all its manifestations,
continues to persist, and will continue until the end of days: Even our
eschatological texts describe a division between the Messiah son of David and
the Messiah son of Joseph.
Glory and eternity
The meeting of Joseph and Judah in Parshat Vayigash
illuminates one aspect of their relationship. On the larger historical plane,
Joseph possesses an aspect of glory that Judah lacks, in the real sense and in
the esoteric sense. At their first meeting, members of the tribe of Joseph
almost always overshadow members of Judah. Even from birth, Joseph has an
advantage: He is smarter, more handsome, more successful, and more loved. In
this respect he lives up to his characterization as the sun in his famous
dream, in that he is far more lustrous than his peers, while Judah appears
inferior from the very beginning.
paradigm follows here as well. How do they meet? Joseph, unofficially the king
of Egypt, meets with Judah, a peasant shepherd from some remote place. Joseph
stands there in all his glory, and facing him, “Judah went up to him.”
in comparison to Joseph, does Judah have to offer? What is unique about him? It
appears that Judah’s unique point is continuity and endurance. Judah
perseveres, as he did when he admitted his responsibility to Tamar, and this is
a point that can be observed in the cases of many other members of his tribe.
Joseph outshines Judah with respect to glory, but as for perseverance and
staying power – “‘and the eternity’
refers to Jerusalem” – Joseph,
for all his nobility, does not measure up.
perseveres because he has the advantage of being able to fall, as it says,
“Though he may fall, he is not utterly cast down.”
When Judah falls, he is able to get up again. This is Judah’s special quality;
it is part of his essence.
point of “Judah went up to him” is that Judah, in spite of being a person of
minor importance – the contrast between his and Joseph’s appearance
must have been striking – nevertheless dares to approach the king. To
some extent, this evokes the way in which Saul meets with David. Saul is the
king, and David is a youth brought in from tending the flock to entertain Saul.
to Joseph and his descendants is a sort of perfection, but this perfection is
very fragile: When something breaks, they are unable to fix it. For Joseph,
every situation is all or nothing, whereas Judah is adept at raising himself up
an example of this dichotomy, one must look no further than Saul and David.
Saul and David both sinned. The difference between them is the following: After
Saul “breaks” once, he breaks again a second time and a third time. Though Saul
came from a distinguished family and was considered “of greater stature than
all the people” – a
courageous warrior; a humble, modest, and worthy individual; a pure
soul – when he falls, he is unable to get up. When Saul sins, he
reaches a state in which he is ready to die and is also willing to accept the
entire punishment he deserves. In contrast, when David sins, he draws new
wisdom and maturity from the experience, penning the book of Psalms in its
wake. This is quite an accomplishment! King David can sink low, but he can
channel that low point in his life into real spiritual growth. This is something
that Joseph, by his very nature, cannot do.
difference surfaces again when the Kingdom of Israel is divided in two, with
the House of Joseph and the House of Judah going separate ways. Upon reading
the assessment of the midrashim of the characters involved, it is clear whom
our sages favored.
is an exalted and impressive figure, a man chosen by God to rule over the ten
tribes of Israel. No matter what we think of him, he is certainly an
extraordinary personality, as demonstrated by a series of talmudic anecdotes:
He is capable of rebuking King Solomon when the latter is at the height of his
glory. When Yerovam is together with Achiyah
the Shilonite, all the wise men are like the grass of the field in comparison
with them, and
God says to Yerovam, “Repent, and then I and you and the son of Jesse will
stroll together in the Garden of Eden.”
Yerovam is Rechavam.
Who is Rechavam?
On the whole, he is a man who is a bit confused, who does not know what to do
exactly with the fairly large kingdom that he inherited and which, through
ill-advised harshness and imprudent softness, he manages to lose. Besides this,
we are told little of Rechavam.
Yerovam – who certainly was a great man and a far greater scholar
than Rechavam – is
among those who have no share in the World to Come. He sinned and caused others
to sin, and there is no way to atone for this. Rechavam may not have been a
righteous king or an especially significant king, but he carried on the line of
the House of David. No royal line of the kings of Joseph manages to last more
than a few generations. By contrast, the kings of the House of
David – who certainly count some wicked men in their number – are
able to build a stable dynasty, and are able, ultimately, to persevere.
b. Avuyah, the tannaitic apostate known as “Acher” (literally, “Other”), was
similar to Yerovam in this sense. He was perhaps the most brilliant man of his
generation and was younger than all the other scholars with whom he would
confer. According to his own account,
Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer attended his circumcision; thus, they were
already scholars when he was born. But Elisha b. Avuyah could not tolerate
a world that lacked perfection, and when he discovers that there are problems
in the world, he begins to fall apart. And when he falls apart, he cannot
recover from the fall.
conception of perfection is reflected in a saying of his: “One who learns when
young, to what may he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper. But one who
learns when old, to what may he be compared? To ink written on paper that has
Elisha b. Avuyah does not want to write on erased paper; he wants ink written
on fresh paper. He is saying – and this is part of his
personality – that since he has been erased once, he cannot rewrite
himself. By contrast, Rabbi Akiva is like Judah, a peasant from an
undistinguished family. Unlike Elisha b. Avuya, who came from one of the
prominent families of Jerusalem, Rabbi Akiva was the son of converts.
Throughout his life, Rabbi Akiva “broke” not just once but several times,
including during difficult events in his personal life, yet he always overcame
The tzaddikand the baal
Joseph was a true tzaddik. Sometimes this
identity is apparent in a person’s character from birth, and it is immediately
clear that this person is innately good. There is a type of personality for
whom perfection is innate. Jonathan, Saul’s son, seems to fit this
characterization – he is a person with no apparent defects.
us note, however, that such a person – a man who bears an aspect of
perfection by his very nature, who was born with all the great gifts and who
exercises them in perfect fashion – must be judged by his ability to
remain at this level. Possessing all the virtues is not enough if he is unable
to rectify himself the moment he becomes flawed.
In nature, too, there are structures that do not reach
perfection by way of development but, rather, emerge perfect from the outset.
mentions the possibility of using an egg to support the leg of a bed. This
talmudic statement is strange and surprising. After all, even if this were
possible, who would use an egg to support the leg of a bed? But the truth is
that from a physical standpoint, an egg is one of the most perfect structures
in existence. The only problem is that an egg’s strength depends on its
complete integrity. It is like a dome: The moment one stone falls, the whole
structure collapses. This is often the nature of this kind of perfection: It
can last only as long as there is no flaw.
this sense – as is evident from their interaction before and after
this point – the relationship of Joseph and Judah is that of a tzaddik and
a baal teshuva.
The story of Judah and Tamar compared to the story of Joseph and Potifar’s wife
is a striking example of this relationship.
character seems to deteriorate. He sells Joseph, which is a particularly
despicable act. His conduct with Tamar demonstrates a moral deficiency as well.
Nevertheless, he is also capable of confronting Joseph – “Judah went
up to him.” Here is a person who has quite a few matters on his conscience and
an unsavory past. We might have expected him to sit quietly on the sidelines,
but as we see, he takes action instead.
not only puts his life on the line but is also willing to face up to his past
actions. The wide gulf between those actions and his present conduct is
precisely what defines Judah’s essence. The Midrash
comments that Joseph attempted – rightfully – to silence
Judah, asking him, “Why are you speaking up? You are neither the eldest nor the
firstborn. So what are you doing? Let your eldest brother Reuben speak. Why do
you even have the right to open your mouth?” Yet Judah, despite all his
baggage, rises anew, ready to come to grips with whatever he must face. That is
Judah’s strength. By contrast, Joseph – by nature and as a matter of
principle – cannot change, cannot be flexible. He is a perfectionist,
and this is precisely what breaks him.
recounts an interesting conversation between Elisha b. Avuyah and Rabbi Meir.
Elisha b. Avuyah asks Rabbi Meir to interpret the verse, “Gold and glass cannot
match its value, nor can vessels of fine gold be exchanged for it.”
Rabbi Meir responds, “This refers to Torah matters, which, like vessels of
gold, are hard to acquire, but like vessels of glass are easily lost.” Elisha
b. Avuyah says to him, “Rabbi Akiva, your master, did not interpret that way,
but, rather, ‘Both vessels of gold and vessels of glass, if broken, can be
repaired.’” One can melt them and form them anew. But there are vessels –
such as those of clay, mother of pearl, or even diamond – that, after
being broken, remain forever broken. One cannot do anything about it; the
defect remains a defect.
read in Megillat
Esther, “But Mordechai neither bowed down nor prostrated himself.”
On the one hand, this conduct reflects his strength and glory; but on the other
hand, it gets him into trouble: According to the Talmud,
the Jews became furious with him for not acquiescing to Haman’s demands. “Why
did you get us into all of this trouble?” they cried. “Bow down!” Mordechai is
cast in the same mold as his ancestors Saul and Joseph before him. He is called
“Mordechai the tzaddik,”
often cannot abide even the slightest flaw. Mordechai’s essential nature
requires that he be perfect.
going out to his last battle, Saul knows that he and his sons are going to die,
and he does not care. An aspect of strength and idealism accompanies this man
throughout his life – even at his fall. Just like Elisha b. Avuyah,
Saul does not act in half measures; if his flaws cannot be corrected
completely, then he does not want them corrected at all. He aims for the
highest heights, but if he cannot achieve this, he will consign himself to the
lowest depths. To go halfway is not an option.
contrast, for someone like Judah – the true baal teshuva – the
existence of flaws is intrinsic to him and to his personality. If he did not
have flaws, he would not be who he is. The baal teshuva thrives on his
ability to deconstruct his personality in order to reshape it in another form,
to make changes within himself.
begins entirely from below. Like David, he comes “from following the flock;”
he begins from nothing. Judah is neither the firstborn nor the most physically
imposing of Jacob’s children. However, he “prevailed over his brothers” (I Chr. 5:2), and he
continuously perseveres, generation after generation.
Joshua and Caleb seem similar, to a large degree.
However, though the Talmud likens Joshua to Moses, saying, “Moses’ countenance
was like that of the sun; Joshua’s countenance was like that of the moon,” Joshua had
no children. Caleb had a son and a brother – he had successors,
generation after generation. Not all of his descendants were important or
significant people, and most certainly did not measure up to his eminence, but
Caleb’s essence lived on. When Joshua died, however, only a tombstone remained.
After the tribes of Joseph were smashed and exiled, they did not return home.
We – who are basically the Kingdom of Judah – had our first
Temple destroyed, but we built the Second Temple. We were exiled again for a
period of time, but once again, we are returning.
Judah and Joseph interact, it is a meeting between perfection and adaptability.
Throughout history, Joseph represents splendor, even heroism. In contrast,
Judah is flawed and beleaguered, beset with difficulties; but in the end, Judah
Rectifying the world
At the end of the parshah, there is a section
that the commentators discuss extensively, even though it seems to have little
to do with the main theme of the parshah, and is connected to a different aspect
of the relationship between Judah and Joseph.
entire final section of Parshat Vayigash is the story of how Joseph handles
Egyptian politics for Pharaoh and how he governs the Egyptians. That Joseph was
a powerful ruler over the entire land has already been stated, but here we find
a whole story about how Joseph interacts with the Egyptians.
before this story, the Torah states, “And he [Jacob] sent Judah before him unto
Joseph, to show the way before him unto Goshen.”
Where do Judah and Joseph stand at this juncture?
contrast to Judah, Joseph is practically a king. He speaks seventy languages,
while Judah no doubt stammers in the only language he knows. But that is not
the point. Here we see that Joseph acts not only in his own interest; rather,
he tries to rectify the world. Joseph endeavors on behalf of the entire country
and puts it back on its feet. While Joseph is saving the country, Judah brings
the family to the land of Goshen, where they organize themselves in their own
matters. While Joseph is engaged in a great undertaking, Judah deals with the
small matters: his flock, his herd, and the question of how to support the
interpretation by our sages
that Jacob sent Judah in order to establish a house of study does not affect
the analysis. The same conclusion emerges: Joseph is not just the most
successful son in his family. He is a man who concerns himself with the whole
world, while Judah concerns himself with parochial Jewish pursuits. Whereas
Joseph is universal, Judah is only a Jew, engaging in his own pursuits and his
the surface it appears that Joseph, the man of the world, is the hero of this
narrative, while Judah is of minor importance. Precisely here, the haftarah
plays a crucial role, presenting the differences in the nature and character of
Judah and Joseph as fundamental distinctions between two parallel worlds. When
the Judah-Joseph duality is viewed under a different light, as it is in the haftarah,
we see the world of Joseph – who transcends his own individuality and
represents a whole way of being – and a world of Judah, whose essence
is that he begins from below, from crisis, from distress, and from the minutiae
Joseph does almost instantly takes Judah several generations to accomplish.
Even when Judah builds, the building is not straight; his progress is
characterized by ups and downs. But which is the ideal path, the worldview that
we should adopt and strive for? Neither the book of Genesis nor the Torah as a
whole presents a clear answer to this question.
Jacob blesses his sons before his death and gives Judah and Joseph the biggest
and most significant blessings, they are on equal ground, one facing the other.
Evident in the blessings to Joseph is not just greater love for this son; they
are blessings of tremendous scope – Jacob grants him heaven and
earth: “May your father’s blessing add to the blessing of my parents, to the
utmost bounds of the everlasting hills. May they rest on Joseph’s head, on the
brow of the elect of his brothers.”
He gives him everything that can possibly be given. Correspondingly, Judah
receives eternity: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s
staff from between his feet.”
Joseph is given grandeur, while Judah is given eternity.
conclusion is not found in this parshah, nor in the book of Genesis, nor anywhere in the
entire Torah. The final reckoning is that of the Messiah: Who will be the true
Messiah? Since this reckoning moves back and forth over the generations, it is
clear that Joseph and Judah are equals: It is the ultimate conflict between the
perfect and the imperfect, between those who begin with a stacked deck and
those who forge themselves.
The stick of Judah and the
stick of Joseph
The haftarah presents Judah and Joseph as two branches, and
the conflict between them is not personal but, rather, a conflict between
essential natures. It is very difficult for them to join together, because they
are two different character types that cannot be integrated.
concludes that in this disagreement, although from time to time the scales tip
to the stick of Judah or the stick of Joseph, it is impossible to truly favor
one side or the other. According to the haftarah, ideally the two
aspects should be able to work together, as the Likkutei Torah writes
regarding the verse, “We will add circlets of gold to your points of silver.”
all the texts that deal with this subject, it is clear that there will be no
solution to this question until the end of days. This conflict, like the
“dispute for the sake of Heaven” of Shammai and Hillel,
will ultimately endure.
we say that these two aspects should go together, the meaning is not that they
should be joined together like two planks, forcing each to adapt to the nature
of the other. When the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph join together,
they should each exist independently, but side by side, in the perfect harmony
of a string quartet. Judah and Joseph represent two different elements, each of
which retains its distinctness. The inevitable internal conflict in this
coexistence is the very thing that creates the beauty.
Joseph’s case, there is an element of great tragedy. People who possess the
character traits of Joseph are incomparable in their splendor and virtual
perfection. They are radiant suns, but they have no way of recovering from a
fall. Must it always be that those of us who approach closest to perfection are
also the most fragile among us? Will the spiritual descendants of Joseph never
be able to lift themselves up and repair themselves?
until the end of time, these two types will remain: one who is characterized by
wholeness and perfection, and one who is characterized by fault and repair; one
who draws his strength from his perfection, and the other, from the power of
renewal. These two will never completely unite, but together they comprise the
tension that makes our lives so vibrant. We live between Judah and Joseph, and
when the two elements work in perfect tandem, the symphony of life is formed.