Saturday, December 27, 2008

Step Up and Approach:
A Miqeitz~Vayigash DvarTorah

(for se‘uda shelishit)

Just a few minutes ago
we resolved
the greatest cliffhanger
in the תורה.

יוסף has turned the tables on his brothers —
accusing them of espionage;
sending them back and forth
between כנען and Egypt;
demanding that they bring down
בנימין, his youngest brother;
secretly returning their money;
hiding his silver goblet in בנימין's sack;
and finally,
threatening to keep the “thief”
with him in Egypt as a slave.

For a few hours
between שחרית and מנחה,
we waited to see
what would happen.

Have the brothers
repented?
Will they now defend
יעקב's favorite son,
instead of selling him down the river,
as they did to יוסף?

And then,
this coming week's פרשה begins
ויגש אליו יהודה.
יהודה steps up,
confronts יוסף,
and saves the day.

Last week's פרשה
also ended with a cliffhanger —
יוסף in prison.
Having descended into tragedy
as far as he will ever go,
יוסף waited for the שר המשקים,
פרעה's chief wine steward
whose dream he interpreted,
to tell the king about him
and rescue him from incarceration.
פרשת וישב ended
with the שר המשקים
forgetting
all about him.

And then,
at the beginning of this morning's פרשה,
יוסף waits two long years
before he is finally freed.

From our point of view
as readers of the תורה,
the cliffhanger is resolved —
but יוסף languishes in prison
all that time,
waiting in suspense,
expecting to be released
at any moment.

In this coming week's פרשה,
though,
the suspense is short
even from the point of view
of the people it's happening to.

יוסף gives them
a merciful-sounding ultimatum —
בנימין,
the accused thief,
will remain with him in Egypt.
The rest of the brothers
can leave in peace
and return
laden with food
to their father in כנען.

And then immediately,
ויגש אליו יהודה.
יהודה approaches.
יהודה steps up and takes a stand.

Where יוסף
languished in prison
waiting passively for release,
יהודה is active —
confronting this Egyptian official
who seems to take
sadistic pleasure
in alternately
acting merciful
and cruel.

יהודה himself
used to be like יוסף.
When his first two sons died,
he delayed,
pushing off his daughter-in-law תמר
until the third son, שלה,
would be old enough
to perform ייבום
and marry her,
to continue her family.

But תמר
took matters into her own hands,
tricking יהודה
into fulfilling the obligation of ייבום himself
instead of waiting around
for some unknown future
to solve all their problems.

And when יהודה admits
צדקה ממני
“she is more righteous than me”
he may be referring
not to תמר's innocence of the crime of semi-adultery,
but to her take-a-stand, get-it-done attitude.

And so,
when בנימין's freedom —
and bound up with it, יעקב's life —
are on the line,
יהודה steps forward,
as יהודה המכבי and his brothers-in-arms did
so many years later.
Not only would the Maccabees
not have won
the miraculous war
if they hadn't taken up arms
to defend Judaism
against the Seleucid Empire —
the miracle of the oil, too
would never have occurred
if they hadn't taken action.


After all,
one day's worth of oil
could never burn for eight
if you don't step up
and light it
in the first place.

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