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Torah Reflections

Vayiggash: Don’t Know Mind

This week’s reading (Vayiggash) concludes the story of Joseph and his brothers. At the conclusion of last week’s reading, a stolen goblet was discovered in Benjamin’s pack. Benjamin was the youngest of Jacob’s sons and especially beloved by his father as his mother, Rachel, had died and Joseph was presumed dead. The goblet had been hidden there at Joseph’s orders, but the brothers didn’t know this. They did, however, know that Jacob would never forgive–and might not survive–the loss of Benjamin. So when Joseph demanded that Benjamin be sentenced to slavery, the brothers were terrified.

Vayiggash picks up immediately after the sentencing:

And Judah approached him and said, “Please, my lord, please let your servant speak a word in the ears of my lord and may your anger not flare against your servant for you are like Pharaoh. (Genesis 44:18)

Judah goes on to beg for Benjamin’s freedom, and his impassioned plea led Joseph first to tears and then to reveal himself to his brothers. While the resolution is a good and satisfying one, it overshadows the tense moment of Judah’s approach to a man nearly as powerful as Pharaoh himself.

A Midrash on Vayiggash

The Sages, however, did recognize the fraught nature of this encounter. They used an interpretive technique in which the same word in a different verse can be used to understand the word in its original context to construct the following midrash:

Rabbi Yehudah said, “The verb ‘he approached’ (vayigash) implies an approach to battle”… Rabbi Nechemiah said, “The verb ‘he approached’ implies a coming near for conciliation…The Sages said, “It implies coming near for prayer”… Rabbi Eleazar combined all these views. Judah approached Joseph with all three [intentions], saying, “If it be war, I approach for war.  If it be conciliation, I approach for conciliation. If it be for entreaty, I approach to entreat.” (Genesis Rabbah)

Each of the first three statements imply that Judah had already made up his mind about the nature of interaction with Joseph. But Rabbi Eleazar describes a wiser mind state. In his view, Judah came before Joseph with an open mind and ready for whatever the situation might require.

Me, Bob and the grocery store promotion

If you’ve been reading these commentaries, you know that I like to provide an example of what I’m discussing drawn for my own life. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind as I was composing my first draft. Fortunately, live has a way of providing them.

My local grocery store has been running one of those promotions in which you get stamps based on the amount of your purchase. Once you collect a particular number of stamps, you can redeem them for goodies of one kind or another. I’d been saving my stamps for something and I only needed two more.

I took a break from writing and went grocery shopping, secure in the belief that I would acquire the last two stamps I needed. Except the promotion was over–three days earlier than I’d been told the last time I shopped. I went from happy anticipation to the rage of betrayal in a heartbeat.

Still angry, I drove home and enlisted my faithful knight in shining armor and chief negotiator. I prepared him for battle and sent him off to defend my honor.

Bob came back from his quest with the desired item and a bemused expression. Armed with receipts, stamps and indignation, he approached the customer service desk. At which point, the customer service person accepted the stamps and handed over the item without so much as an argument or question. It wasn’t what either of us expected, and after building up all that adrenaline, it was a bit disappointing. But we ended up with exactly what we wanted just by asking.

Don’t know mind

If I had reacted differently in the first place, I would have approached the customer service desk with an open mind. I would have simply asked if they would accept my almost enough page of stamps or if there was any way of getting them. And I would have driven home with my groceries and my brand new frying pan.

Instead, I got the perfect example for this reflection on Vayiggash…and a much-needed reminder of the important of don’t know mind.

May you be blessed…

May all of your approaches be met with kindness and generosity. May you enter into all engagements with a mind open to all possibilities. And may your encounters call forth the wisest and best within you.

Ameyn, ken yehi ratzon. Amen, may it be so.

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