Parshat VaYigash

In this week’s parsha, Parshat Vayigash, we have the longest unbroken narrative in all of the Torah. Yehuda makes an impassioned plea to save Binyamin and offers himself as a slave to Yosef (though of course he does not know he is speaking to Yosef). Yosef reveals himself to his brothers and is reunited with them as well as with his father Yaakov. In this parsha, we see the greatness of Yosef in the fulfillment of his dreams, his position in Paroh’s court and his generous forgiving of his brothers. It seems that Yosef is well on his way to becoming the dominant personality and force for the future of the Jewish people.

However, history does not turn out that way. Yehuda is the one who becomes the source of the Jewish kings and the final Moshiach. Yosef, the only person routinely referred to as “Hatzadik”, is displaced by Yehuda, someone who sold his brother and had relations with a woman who he thought was a harlot. Yet even though Yehuda made these mistakes, we are known as Yehudim and not Yosefim. What can we learn from Yehuda’s final position and what does this Parsha reveal about Yehuda? What could be more important than being a Tzdaik? From here we learn that there is something more important in order to be a true leader of the Jewish nation.

In the whole incident of Yehuda and Tamar, Tamar gives Yehuda the ability to put her to death and not admit his indiscretion. He also could have come up with some excuse to not put her to death, however he says “She was more righteous than I”. This is the first time in the Torah that someone admits he or she is wrong-the essence of the first step of Teshuva. The name Yehuda has the Shoresh lehodot which means to thank, but it also means to admit or acknowledge. The term Vidui also come from this root. The greatness of someone who does Teshuva is quoted in Berachot Lamud Daled amud bet “In the place where penitents stand even the perfectly righteous cannot stand”. The ability to grow and change is essential for leadership. Just 7 perakim ago, Yehuda was happy to sell Yosef merely as a practical alternative to killing him. This week, he offers himself up as a slave to protect his younger brother. Human beings cannot be perfect; we need to be able to admit mistakes and grow from them. Yehuda’s ability to go from true callousness towards Yosef to sacrifice is what made him suitable for leadership.

Similarly it is interesting to note that Dovid Hamelech was certainly not the model of continued perfection, especially with regards to his taking of Batsheva. His response of “I have sinned to Hashem” when confronted by the prophet in Sefer Shmuel is looked upon as a model for Teshuva and proper behavior. The ultimate leadership of Yehuda, despite the greatness of Yosef Hatzadik, is a powerful message for us. Resilience and the ability to improve are the key elements for greatness; not whether or not we are destined for great heights.

Student Studying in MMY