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  • Writer's pictureNitzotzos

Parshas Vayigash - The Tale of Two Kings

"Then Yehudah approached him and said, "Please, my lord, let now your servant speak something into my lord's ears, and let not your wrath be kindled against your servant, for you are like Pharaoh." (Bereishis 44:18)

The Medrash tells us that this battle between Yosef and Yehuda is a battle between two kings. "They [the brothers] said: Kings are negotiating with each other; of what concern is it to us?" (Bereshis Rabah 93:2) Yosef and Yehuda represent two forms of Jewish leadership. We know that there are not one but two Mashiachs. One who descends from Yosef and the other from Yehuda. What is the difference between Yosef and Yehuda? What are they battling about?

In the final act of the drama between Yosef and his brothers, Yehuda approaches Yosef and submits to his power. At long last their fight has come to an end and it is now appropriate for Yosef to reveal himself to his brothers. But what exactly was their disagreement? The Torah is unclear on this point. We know that Yosef’s brothers hated him because Yaakov showed Yosef favoritism and Yosef’s dreams were a source of further contention but is that really all? Many of us would be frustrated if our father loved one child more than the next but that would not lead us to the conclusion to sell our brother into slavery. Obviously on some level the Shevatim considered Yosef’s dreams to be important or they would not have taken them seriously. Why now, when Yehuda finally submits to Yosef, does Yosef decide to reveal himself? How does he know that the argument has been won?

Yosef - A Sense of Moreness

Yosef and Yehuda have two very different methods of serving Hashem.

Yosef’s name is Rachel’s teffilah for another child (Yosef li ben acher). The name Yosef indicates a desire for more. This name reflects the essence of Yosef’s avodas Hashem. When we look at the world around us, there is clearly something lacking. The world needs more. More healing. More love. More peace. The Yosef’s of the world have a youthful innocence in that they actually believe they can bring something new to the table and change themselves and the world around them. The amazing thing about these people is that while they may be childlike they are far from childish. They may be dreaming but they are wide awake, as the Ponovezher Rav would say. Incredibly, these are the people that actually make a difference. They are the people that start Yeshivos, build Mikavos and Shuls, lead new community initiatives etc.… where they see a need for more they are excited by the opportunity that lies in front of them. Not just on a communal level but in the arena of personal growth as well. If they see in others a middah they wish they had, they look to add on a new feature to their personality. They are in a constant process of re-creation. If you met them five years ago and then met them again today, you would be convinced they are two different people. And no matter how many obstacles they confront, they never seem to be daunted. Being a child means having the capacity to dream and actually believe that your dream can become a reality. People like this are too “young” to know how to take no for an answer. Obstacles are just part of the journey. This is why it is the youth that so often create revolutionary changes in the world.

Yosef is described as a child and a dreamer. He is certainly someone who faced his fair share of obstacles in his life. Throughout his journey, Yosef continuously reinvents himself. From a slave to the head of Potiphar’s house. From a prisoner to a prophet. From a child to the viceroy of the most powerful nation in the world. When Yosef finds himself in the grip of Eishes Potiphar he somehow discovers an inner strength to be “more” than he is and flees the house. In fact, the lesson Yosef learns from this episode is that submission doesn’t work. Had Yosef taken proactive measures against the many advances Eishes Potiphar made, perhaps he would have never ended up in a compromised situation to begin with. On a national level Yosef made sweeping changes to the Egyptian economy and took charge of the entire political scene. To paraphrase, some people look at the world and see what is, Yosef looks at the world and sees what could be.

Yehuda - To Submit Is Divine

Yehuda has a very different approach to avodas Hashem. Yehuda is named for the “gratitude” that Leah had to Hashem. To be grateful means to be thankful for what you have. Whereas Yosef looks at the world and sees what is deficient, Yehuda looks at the world and is happy with what he has. The Yehuda’s of the world look around and can’t imagine how people can see what is lacking. There is so much beauty, so many wondrous creations, so much to enjoy. To focus on what is missing is to be unappreciative of the miracle of life. The Yehuda’s of the world are known for their humility and their ability to submit to what is. They sense arrogance in the Yosef approach. Who are you to believe you can change the world? If God wanted more he would have created more. Of course Yehuda believes that the world needs more just as Yosef does but the forward, take matters into your own hands approach, reeks of hubris. Our job is to submit to God and allow Him to make the changes. If that involves our own contribution then so be it but only because that is God’s will. In the realm of personal growth, the Yehuda approach would dictate that we should focus on the strengths we have and not be overly concerned with areas where we are not as strong. If God had wanted us to be more charismatic for example, then he would have given us that gift. In the meantime, be humble. Acknowledge that you have certain skills while you may lack others. Be deeply appreciative of whichever middos you were given. Above all, be honest. Integrity is the hallmark of those that have gratitude. If you are truly nullified before God then why would you ever be dishonest? If a mistake was made then post facto we know it was part of God’s plan and we ought to own the error of our ways.

Yehuda’s life embodies this approach. Rather than kill Yosef, Yehuda argues that he should be sold. Killing Yosef is too forward a move for Yehuda. “Let our hand be not upon him…” God will give Yosef whatever he deserves. Just as Yosef learned a valuable lesson of being “more” in the home of Eishes Potiphar, Yehuda learns a valuable lesson of “submission” in the parallel story with his daughter in law, Tamar. Whereas Yosef ought to have been more proactive in the handling of Eishes Potiphar, Yehuda needed to be less proactive and let God' plan unfold. By being proactive and withholding Shelah from Tamar (so that Shelah would not die) Yehuda himself ends up in a compromised situation with his own daughter in law. This episode enforced for Yehuda a truth he would not forget. God runs the world and when we assert ourselves, when we lose our humility, we can lose everything. Thus, when Yehuda does recognize that his proactive approach of withholding Sheleh was incorrect he has the humility to submit to his mistake as the will of God and acknowledge that Tamar is pregnant with his children.

Two Kings - One Mission

Which of these two paths is correct? Should we look to bring "more" to the world or should we "submit" to what is? This is the argument between Yosef and Yehuda. Yosef is a dreamer. He has big plans for how he will change the world. Yehuda is ultimate expression of submission and humility. Their argument is not simply one of character and virtue. It is a question of what path Jews ought to take for the rest of history. Should we proactively seek to change the world or should we submit with humility to the will of God?

Life is not black and white. It is complex. It is nuanced. There are very few times where we can say this path is true and this path is false.

In truth, while Yosef lives with a sense of moreness he too learns the value of holding back. "And he turned away from them and wept, then returned to them and spoke to them..." Yosef wants to reveal himself to his brothers but he knows the time is not yet ripe. He leaves the room so that his brothers won't see his tears. Those that seek to conquer the world must learn the art of submission. There is a time to be forward. A time to make change. There are also times where we need to wait for God's plan to unfold. It was the lesson Yosef learned while sitting in jail and while it went against the grain of who Yosef was he appropriately withheld his tears from his brother so his identity should not be discovered.

On the other hand, in the beginning of this week's parsha we see that it is Yehuda who "approaches" Yosef. Our parsha is named Vayigash, emphasizing the fact that this is not the natural stance of Yehuda. If God wills Binyamin to remain in Mitzrayim than who is Yehuda to argue for his release? But this too is not the true path. The development of Malchus Yehuda demands that Yehuda take proactive responsibility to procure his brother's release. He gave Yaakov his word. We cannot sit idly by while others suffer. It is true we need to submit to the will of God. Sometimes the will of God is to let His plan unfold. Other times we are tasked with the responsibility of standing up to injustice, healing the sick, giving food and shelter to those who need... To be a bystander in such situations is not Godly. It's cruel. Yehuda values submission and humility but he also knows there is a place for being a Yosef and he reveals that dimension of himself in this story.

We can now understand why Yosef felt that the time had arrived to reveal himself. Yosef understood that the mission of Klal Yisrael is to actively bring Godliness to the world. Pure submission to Godliness would not achieve that end. Yehuda's expression of approaching Yosef indicated that his Malchus, his path of serving Hashem, had come into its full maturation and was now ready to be joined with Yosef. This doesn't mean that Yehuda abandoned his approach. We see that when Yaakov falls ill, it is Yosef who approaches Yaakov. Yehuda waits to be summoned. Yosef is given a double portion in Eretz Yisrael, a reflection of his proactive "moreness"approach. Yehuda is given Malchus. The hallmark of our Kings must be their submission to God's will, humility and integrity. We need both Yosef and Yehuda to fulfill our mission in this world. Mashiach ben Yosef must come first. We need to go out and make the world a better place. Of course, we need to know when to hold back and let God do the work but Yosef knows that primarily we need to be proactive. Mashiach ben Dovid, the progeny of Yehuda, finishes the job. In the end, it will not be our work that completes the job but our submission to God as we watch him bring the world to its ultimate state of rectification. May we merit to see both Kings speedily in our times.

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