Vayigash as Parasha of the Birth of Verbal Repentance
Yehuda as Motif of Familial Intergenerational Teshuva
Yosef as Ancestor Worthy of Imitation of Growing Window of Tolerance, Forgiveness & Healing
Welcome to Awakening: Torah Mussar MIndfulness, where we at The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar meet weekly at 15:00/3pm EST on Sundays to learn from the Torah/Hebrew Bible portion that we just observed on the Jewish Sabbath/Shabbat. You may join us on Zoom (link here) or LIVE on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. All sessions are recorded and can be found at our website (www.kehilatmussar.com) in the Blog section.
Before we begin delving into the weekly Torah/Hebrew Bible portion/parasha, this week being (Genesis 44:18-47:27 ), we pray that our Intention/Kavannah be of learning Torah, Mussar, and the Dharma together and practicing Mussar Mindfulness. We commit to learn and practice together once a week to strengthen our Middot/soul-traits and souls, to be of service to others and God/Hashem; indeed, to bring God’s Good to others.
We always begin our practice with our Kavanah/Intention for today’s practice: to do this type of practice and care as an act of self-care and to connect us with the Divine, and ultimately, to other people. So, before doing this engagement of learning and practice together we say: this is something I am doing to strengthen my own soul in order to be of benefit to others in the future; and then our last paragraph: this is something that I’m doing to strengthen my relationship with the Creator so that I can be a better conduit of God’s Good to others when they need me. (See below)
We use the first and third Kavanot/Intentions listed below for today’s learning and practice:
We begin by looking at what do we mean by Vayigash, the root י-ג-ש, meaning to draw near or approach. And our tradition understands there to be three meanings to this root: 1) from Samuel II 10:13, yigash means to do battle; 2) to conciliate, which we learn from Joshua 14:6; and 3) to pray from Kings I 18:36. Genesis Rabbah (93:6) teaches that men are generally prepared for all three forms of drawing near, not unlike how our relative Yaakov prepared for his reunion with his elder twin brother, Esav, that he had betrayed years earlier: by preparing for war, praying to God and sending gifts of reparation.
Recall also Avraham Avinu (18:23) who yigash/approaches God(!) in order to elicit mercy. Avraham does not want God to destroy Sodom and Emora (known as Gemora in English). After intensive verbal exchange (battle), Avraham causes God to agree that God will not destroy those communities should there be found 10 righteous souls (conciliation and prayer with words and action).
In this week’s Torah portion/parasha, it is our ancestor Yehuda who draws near to Yosef, while attempting to survive a famine in Egypt and the land of Canaan. And we spotlight his middah/soul-trait of Courage/Omets (אומץ). He practices amazing balanced and strong Courage. He knew that he could have endangered the well-bring of his family, the other brothers and family back in Canaan, as well as his own well-being when he drew near to Egypt’s Vizier, Yosef, his brother unbeknownst to him. And he also knew that he had no other choice but to approach.
Let us recall what immediately proceeds this scene. Yosef has decided to enslave Binyamin and commands his brothers to return to their elderly father in peace. Now, Yosef must have known on some level that these brothers would not be able to return in peace to their father with one of their brothers left in Egypt as a slave. So, for Yosef to say such a statement was most likely meant as a form of sarcastic hate speech: the type of verbal domination that has the embodied effect of a knife to the stomach.
And perhaps Yehuda is given some heat, some strength and energy from anger in response to Yosef’s verbal dig. And with that impulse, that state of righteous Anger as a balanced middah/soul-trait, which can lead to balanced Courage when practiced with mindfulness, Yehuda draws near to Yosef: prepared for war, conciliation, and prayer. And his weapons of battle are gentle, descriptive, repetitive words meant to elicit the response of compassion and mercy from Yosef.
Allow us to recall Yehuda, back in parasha Vayeshev (38:1-30): a recently widowed man who has lost two of his sons due to their unwise, what some would term sinful, behaviors of how they treated their wife, Tamar. He sent his daughter-in-law back to her father’s house to wait until Yehuda’s youngest was ready for marriage. Seeing the son as grown and not given to her in marriage some years later, Tamar took matters into her own hands and masqueraded herself as a prostitute who then allowed herself to be hired as a sex worker by her father-in-law, Yehuda. She ended up pregnant and when Yehuda learned of this, he ordered her execution. She then requested that the man who hired her as a sex worker reveal himself, and at that life-altering moment, Yehuda learned that it was indeed him who had intercourse with his daughter-in-law and caused her pregnancy.
Yehuda admits verbally, out loud that he is the one responsible for her pregnancy and therefore, she should not be executed. In case you do not understand the significance of this moment, Yehuda could have and should have, given the habituated nature of men in history up until that point, had Tamar executed. Not admit his culpability. But he didn’t.
And now this transformed Yehuda approaches Yosef as the upright warrior that he is with his balanced, strong middah/soul-trait of Compassion/Rachamim. He is highly effective: citing Yaakov no less than 14 times, their elderly and dying father, Yehuda gives voice to Yaakov’s suffering. Avivah Zornberg claims that Yehuda “redescribed himself in a new vocabulary of intimate relationship: a vocabulary that suggests what it is like to see the other seeing, and not be able to bear seeing what he sees.” The Beginning of Desire, p. 326
Deferential yet dignified, Yehuda makes it clear that this elderly man who has already lost one son (supposedly Yosef) and is dying from the famine in Canaan will perish should Yosef keep Binyamin as a slave in Egypt. Yehuda, the one responsible for the sale of Yosef into slavery (37:26), now unwittingly offers to become the slave of his own victim.
Yehuda’s Compassion for his father, Yaakov, and his responsible gesture of self-sacrifice to become a slave in place of Binyamin causes Yosef to allow Compassion to burst forth in his heart: he breaks down in tears. Yehuda’s Compassion causes Yosef to break open his heart: to stop the testing, to come out, to come clean, and admit who he is.
Reframing that Leads to Forgiveness
Once Yosef reveals who he truly is to his brothers, he allows his broken heart to heal through touch, tears, connection, and acceptance. While the brothers never admit and take verbal responsibility for what they did directly to Yosef’s face, there is an embodied reconciliation and forgiveness when they embrace, cry and speak to one another for the first time since before Yosef was 17. Recall that his brothers couldn’t speak a kind word to him when he was 17 before they sold him into slavery (37:4).
Yosef was privy to their sideline confession and fear that Divine Retribution was finally being visited upon them (we may call this consequence for their behavior). Yosef now knows that they know, and Yosef is privileged to witness the teshuva that they would not treat Binyamin as they did him. In Mussar Mindfulness, there is a distinction between forgiveness and consequences. Meaning, I can forgive AND there are still consequences for the offender’s behavior. We look at impact more than intention, although intention is not completely discounted.
The essence of forgiveness is that the forgiver allows for his/her relationship with the forgiven to be healed. It is a way of saying to the Yosef’s brothers:
Yosef has worked through years of practice of resourcing, reframing, and expanding his Window of Tolerance on how he witnesses his past trauma. He no longer considers himself a victim to his brothers’ greed, hate, and delusion. No, Yosef has transformed into a man of solid faith and trust in God that he believes sent him down to Egypt through the means of slavery in order to save lives from a certain death from the famine.
Yosef’s resourcing and reframing allows his brothers to have a new understanding of their lives. Indeed, it allows them to be able to be in relationship with Yosef because otherwise they would not be able to forgive themselves enough to be in relationship. They might also have had to live in paralyzing fear of revenge by Yosef, which a remnant remains as we will see next parasha, had Yosef not presented his brothers a totally different way of understanding what happened. One only need to recall Yaakov’s 20 years of guilt and fear of his own brother’s revenge expressing itself in the night of all nights that would transform Yaakov both in body (disabled hip joint) and in name (Yisrael).
Yosef’s holy understanding of what happened to him (God sent me) shows two different understandings of reality: a surface level and a deeper level. The Dharma’s understanding of absolute and relative truth is helpful here. Usually the absolute truth is hidden from us, but Yosef has been given access to God’s truth that God had a plan to save lives and Yosef was God’s agent. To live the wisdom that God has a plan for us, that there is something larger than us, than our own trauma, is a practice that we begin today and renew everyday.
We honor God, our practice, our ancestors, our community, our Torah, and Dharma. I am honored to be your teacher and to be here together in order to enable offerings like this. We rely on your donations of any amount to offer these teachings and sitting. This donation is called Dana in the Pali, a tradition of Insight Buddhist Meditation, and Terumah in Hebrew, a tradition of Judaism. On behalf of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar, I thank you for your donation.
We also accept sponsorships for our weekly teaching and sitting that are in honor of someone or in memory of someone, may their memory be for a blessing. Sponsorships are $50 to sponsor one day of teaching and we include your honoree or deceased in the announcements and teaching so that we may lift up their souls and merit our practice together to make this a better world.
Our practice: reflect for 5 minutes daily in our Cheshbon Hanefesh journal:
- Can we bear the burden of our ancestors, particularly when they act out with unbalanced middot?
- Can we extend compassion and less judgment?
- What can our ancestors and the Torah teach us?
- And can we integrate and be mindful of these lessons and what was handed down to us by our ancestors, like Yehuda & Yosef, so that we can use this wisdom to make sure that we do not cause more harm and suffering? To use this wisdom to resource and expand our Window of Tolerance?
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