Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Firstborn Syndrome

The centerpiece of our parsha is the dreaded Tenth Plague. For the first time since creation, the Almighty Himself descends to Earth. Idols melt, the first-born Egyptians die and Pharaoh chases the Jews out of his land. The game is over.

It’s a great climax, however, some elements of this story are just baffling. In preparation for the plague, the Jews are commanded to take a lamb, slaughter it and smear its blood on the doorposts of their homes. If that weren’t strange enough, the Jews are told that this mitzvah is necessary for their own protection.
The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are staying. I will see the blood and pass over you. There will then not be any destructive plague on you when I strike Egypt. (Shemot 12:13)
The Torah takes this very seriously. At the end of the parsha we find a mitzvah for future generations called “Pidyon HaBen,” the “redeeming” of the first born son.
You must redeem every firstborn among your sons. When your son later asks you, “What is this?” you will say to him: “G-d took us out of Egypt, from the house of slaves, with an outstretched arm. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us leave, G-d killed all the firstborn in Egypt… I therefore redeem all the firstborn of my sons.” (Shemot 13:13-15)
What is the meaning of this? Wasn’t the idea of the Tenth Plague to punish the Egyptians and redeem the Jews? Why would the Jews be in danger? And why, of all things, is blood on a doorpost the sign that protects them?

Another question. Why is G-d performing this plague? For the first nine plagues, using Moshe and Aaron as G-d’s agents worked just fine. Why is number ten different?

These are big questions and the full answer probably requires some knowledge of Jewish mysticism. Yes, some things are even beyond Rabbi Gordon. Here we will present some ideas that will, hopefully, at least scratch the surface. If you are still unsatisfied, please contact your local orthodox Kabbalist.

If we are going to understand anything at all, we must begin with an even more basic question. What is the idea of killing the Egyptian firstborn? Without doubting the morality of capital punishment or second-guessing divine justice, we can still ask why the firstborn are being singled out. Is there possibly some deeper message in the Tenth Plague?

Whenever we hear the word “firstborn,” the book of Genesis comes to mind. From the very first firstborn (Cain) who murdered his younger brother, through the string of firstborns who were stripped of their birthright (Yishmael, Esav and Reuven), firstborns haven’t come off looking very good. There must be some connection here, but barring a divine vendetta against first-born boys, what is it?

Well, what does a firstborn symbolize? What is a firstborn in the abstract? For the answer to this question, we would do well to confront the realities of birth order effects. While stereotyping is unfair, studies published by Frank J. Sulloway in his book "Born to Rebel" support some common observations:

Firstborns dominate and reign supreme in their world. Idealized and idolized by parents and siblings alike, firstborns sometimes end up being aggressive, exacting, fearful and concerned with power. As many parents can attest, the jealousy and anger of older siblings toward their younger brothers and sisters can be fierce. (Yehuda, if you’re reading this, please don’t take it personally!)

Egypt had a bad case of the firstborn syndrome. They were the superpower, but frightened by the success of the Jews, they oppressed them. The Egyptians answered to no one, not even G-d. They abused the power of their position and refused to be humbled (cf. 10:3), so G-d humbled them and eliminated their firstborn, both allegorically and literally. G-d then grants national firstborn status to the Jewish people.
You must say to Pharaoh, “This is what G-d says: Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Shemot 4:22)
If the book of Genesis is the story of firstborns abusing their siblings, disgracing their birthright, and witnessing the transfer of primacy and legacy to their younger brothers as a result, then the book of Exodus is the very same story writ large.

This is all fine and good, but most of our questions remain unanswered. Why were the Jews threatened by the final plague? Why the need for blood on the doorposts? And why is G-d performing the Tenth Plague all by Himself?

For the answer to these questions, it may be helpful to go back to G-d’s original plan for the universe. In the beginning, throughout the creation story, the Torah used the divine name of “Elokim” exclusively. This name connotes strict justice. However, as soon as creation is complete, the Torah sums it up in the very next verse: “These are the chronicles of heaven and earth when they were created, on the day that Hashem (Y-H-V-H) Elokim completed earth and heaven” (Bereishit 2:4). Here we are introduced to the ineffable four-letter name of G-d, “Y-H-V-H,” the name of divine compassion. Thereafter, the Torah uses both names together. Why the change?

The Midrash explains that initially G-d wished to create a world of strict justice, an “Elokim” universe. However, G-d knew that such a world would quickly be destroyed – man could not long survive under the rule of uncompromising justice and instant retribution. So G-d “partnered” Elokim, justice, with Y-H-V-H, compassion, to create a balanced world of justice and love. Within such a world, man could grow spiritually over time without fear of being struck down by lightening at the slightest sin.

It seems that G-d’s “Plan A” was an idealized, perfectionist, dominating, “Elokim” world. It was G-d’s firstborn, but He nixed it; mortals could never live up to that standard. Compassion was woven into the fabric of justice to create our current, flexible reality.

That was the creation story, but now G-d wants to break the rules. G-d has run out of patience with the Egyptians and He wants to punish them with the full force of His wrath, but there’s a problem. The design of the world incorporates compassion and does not allow for unmitigated justice. So G-d had to take this job into His own hands.

G-d walks into Egypt and all bets are off. The Almighty is in Elokim mode and under such conditions, every other source of power, real or imagined, simply evaporates. Even the firstborn Jews, whom G-d has come to save, are in danger of being overcome by the force of Elokim in their midst. Only one thing can save them. Blood. But not just any blood. The blood of mitzvah.

Only by humbling themselves before the will of G-d, surrendering before the master of life and death, and faithfully offering a sacrifice to the only true power and authority, can the firstborn Jews survive the divine revelation of the Tenth Plague. When G-d sees that, He has found a firstborn He can love.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ignoring Moshe

Last week’s parsha left us hanging with a troubling, unanswered question. Let’s review.

At the Burning Bush, G-d told Moshe to go to Pharaoh and demand that he free the Jews. Moshe is reluctant at first, but ultimately accepts the job. He returns to Egypt and tells his brethren of his divine mission to bring them all back to Israel. The Jews embrace Moshe as their savior and rejoice at their imminent redemption.
The people believed. They accepted the message that G-d had remembered the Israelites and that He had seen their misery. They bowed and prostrated themselves. (Shemot 4:31)
The people wait outside as Moshe enters the palace to speak to the king.

Pharaoh is not cooperative. Instead of freeing the Jews, he dismisses their nationalistic aspirations and accuses them of laziness. To put a quick end to their subversive ideas, Pharaoh dramatically increases the workload of the Jewish slaves.

The Jews work as hard as they can, but are routinely beaten by their taskmasters for failing to meet production quotas. Life becomes unbearable. Instead of redemption, the Jews face tyranny. And instead of being a hero, Moshe has become a pariah.

“You have placed a sword in their hands to kill us!” (Shemot 5:21). Moshe must live with this horrible indictment by his own people. Counterarguments about his good intentions wouldn’t help much, so Moshe confronts G-d.
Master [of the World], why do you mistreat Your people? Why did You send me? As soon as I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he made things worse for these people. You have not saved Your nation! (Shemot 5:22-23)
It’s a good question. Divine plans should not backfire. Here is G-d’s response:
Now you will begin to see what I will do to Pharaoh. With a strong hand he will send them and with a strong hand he will drive them out from his land. (Shemot 6:1)
With these words last week’s parsha came to an end, but we are left wondering. While it is nice to know that Pharaoh will eventually release the Jews, why did G-d send Moshe into Pharaoh’s office if all it accomplished was to make things worse? This was Moshe’s question and it remains unanswered.

This week’s parsha continues where we left off. G-d is still speaking with Moshe and He now presents him with a prophecy of profound significance. G-d lays out a point-by-point description of the redemption process and He instructs Moshe to deliver this speech to the Jewish people:
I will take you away from your forced labor in Egypt.

I will save you from their enslavement.

I will liberate you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.

I will take you to Myself as a nation and I will be to you as a G-d. You will know that it is I, G-d your Lord, who is taking you out from under the subjugation of Egypt.

I will bring you to the land about which I raised My hand, [swearing] that I would give it to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. I will give it to you as an inheritance. I am G-d. (Shemot 6:6-8)
Moshe did as he was told and relates this prophecy to the people, but it was no use. “Because of shortness of breath and hard labor, they didn’t listen to him” (Shemot 6:9). G-d’s great vision for the future fell on deaf ears.

Amazing! For the second time in a row we have the apparent failure of a divine plan. Moshe’s original mission to speak to Pharaoh had disastrous consequences and now the new directive to speak to the people falls flat. By this point, Moshe’s reputation is shot.

In an apparent attempt to salvage some momentum, G-d tells Moshe to show Pharaoh the miraculous sign of transforming a staff into a snake (Shemot 7:8). But Pharaoh’s magicians replicate the trick and Moshe is reduced to a laughingstock. With their leader’s last vestige of credibility gone, the Jewish liberation movement is officially over.

How are we to understand this story? Is G-d playing some kind of cruel trick? What is going on here?

For the answer to our question, we must go back to the Burning Bush. After G-d instructs Moshe to go to Egypt and redeem the Jews, Moshe raises a reasonable objection. “But they won’t believe me, and they won’t listen to me!” (Shemot 4:1) Moshe is concerned that the Jews simply won’t believe that He is G-d’s agent. In response, G-d gives Moshe several miraculous “signs” which he uses to great effect (Shemot 4:30).

Our problem is this: If, as time would tell, Moshe needed these signs to prove that he wasn’t a charlatan, why didn’t G-d give them to him right away? The signs are absent from the initial prophecy and it is only after Moshe expresses his concerns that G-d agrees to give them to him. Why?

The answer is that G-d would prefer not to give Moshe signs. At this point in the game, G-d does not want the Jews to have faith in Moshe. He wants them to have faith in G-d.

When Moshe arrives in Egypt, proves his credentials and marches into Pharaoh’s office, the Jews are confident that he can pull it off. But instead of freedom, the Jews get a renewed bout of oppression. The next time Moshe speaks to them, his worst fears are realized – the Jews aren’t listening. He tries to impress Pharaoh and that fails too. Moshe’s signs and reputation have been neutralized – and then G-d steps in with the Ten Plagues.

G-d will arrive on the scene only after all hope is shattered. As long as people think that salvation can occur naturally, as long as they put their faith in charismatic leadership, liberation movements, diplomatic pressures, peace dialogues and magic tricks, enslaved they will remain. But when the Jews lose faith in the natural course and realize that it is G-d and G-d alone who can take them out of Egypt, then the miracles can begin.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I Will Be What I Will Be

“In the beginning…”

Bereishit begins with a bang. Right from the get-go, it grabs the reader with the mystery and drama of creation. In contrast, Shemot’s opener pales. The Exodus story may be Hollywood material, but somehow, “And these are the names…” just doesn’t have the magic of Bereishit’s opening lines.

There is more to this contrast than mere literary style. In the beginning of Bereishit, G-d is everywhere. As the Creator, He is literally the only actor on the stage. In the beginning of Shemot, however, the situation is different. G-d is conspicuously absent.

The Jews experience a population explosion and G-d is absent. A new, anti-Semitic Pharaoh rises to power and G-d is absent. The Jews are oppressed and enslaved and G-d is absent. Jewish babies are thrown in the river – and G-d is still absent. Terrible things are happening and G-d is nowhere to be seen. In the beginning, G-d called all the shots. Where is He now?

Finally, G-d appears:

The king of Egypt spoke to Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shifra (pseudonym for Yocheved, Moshe’s mother) and Puah (Miriam). He said, “When you deliver Jewish women, you must look at the birthstool. If [the infant] is a boy, kill it; but if it is a girl, let it live.
The midwives feared G-d and did not do as the Egyptian king had ordered them. They allowed the boys to live… Because the midwives feared G-d, He made them houses. (Shemot 1:15-17, 21)
If we were expecting G-d to arrive like a knight in shining armor to save the day, we have set ourselves up for disappointment. His first appearance is nothing more than a cameo. The women fear Him and He rewards their bravery. That’s it.

Actually, it’s even less than that.

When the Torah says “He made them houses” it doesn’t mean that two Frank Lloyd Wrights fell from the sky. We’re not talking here about houses, we’re talking about Houses. Rashi explains:

“He made them houses” – the Houses of Kohanim, Levites and Kingship… Kohanim and Levites from Yocheved and Kingship from Miriam as explained in Talmud, Sotah 11b.
The reward is marvelous and appropriate too. In return for saving the children of their fellow Jews, these two women merit to mother the greatest dynasties of our nation. But the reward was long in coming. Yocheved didn’t even live to see it; she died before her son Moshe returned from Midian to redeem the Jews. As far as she could tell, her efforts didn’t amount to much. After the failure of his midwife plan, Pharaoh simply declares that all baby boys are to be discarded in the Nile.

For the Jews of Egypt, G-d’s first appearance goes by completely unnoticed. In the beginning of this book, G-d’s presence and providence are invisible – even when He is right there! What is the meaning of this? If G-d is there, why doesn’t He put an end to the suffering?

The answer, of course, is unknowable. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways, said G-d” (Isaiah 55:8). But this much is clear. Somehow, in the midst of exile, slavery and terror, G-d is present, rewarding every act of kindness with eternity.

Later in the parsha, when the wheels of redemption begin to turn, Moshe has a rendezvous with G-d at the Burning Bush. G-d directs him to return to Egypt and redeem the Jews, and G-d promises to be with him every step of the way. Moshe responds with a most unexpected question:

“When I go to the Israelites and say ‘Your fathers’ G-d sent me to you’ they will ask me what His name is. What should I say to them?” (Shemot 3:13)
What a strange question! What makes Moshe think that the Jews would quiz him on Jewish trivia at a time like this?! What does it matter what G-d’s name is?

The answer is that G-d’s names are not arbitrary; they describe the different divine attributes. To ask for G-d’s name is to ask this fundamental question: In what way is G-d relating to us right now?

Moshe is right in thinking that the Jews would challenge him with this question. You claim to be a messenger of the G-d of our fathers? Then maybe you want to explain where He’s been all these years? If He cares about us so much, why are we enslaved and why are our children at the bottom of the Nile? In what way does G-d relate to us at all? What is the name of the G-d of our fathers?!

G-d understands the question. He tells Moshe to teach the Jews this new Divine Name:

“I Will Be Who I Will Be.”
An enigmatic answer, to say the least. As a name, it has the authoritative sound of one who is not to be questioned, but what does it mean? The Talmud explains:
G-d told Moshe, “Go tell the Jews, ‘I have been with them in this enslavement and I will be with them in the enslavement of [future] exiles.’” (Berachot 9b)
This is what G-d wants to say to the Jews. Although I have been invisible for a long time and you have suffered a crisis of faith, know that I have been with you all along. No, it doesn’t make any sense to you, but this is the difference between Genesis and life on earth. You can expect it to happen again.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Of Presidential Pardons and Hometown Burials

It might be tasteless, but who can resist comparing the historic funerals that took place this week? Two world leaders were laid to rest, Gerald Ford and Saddam Hussein. Allow me to indulge in a brief contrast – the relevance to our parsha will become apparent soon enough.

Both Ford and Hussein had humble beginnings and rose to power unelected, but the similarities end there. One was a religious Christian; the other, a secular Arab. One was famous for his pardon; the other, for his ruthless retribution. One died peacefully in old age surrounded by loving family; the other was executed by jeering, celebrating enemies. One merited the pageantry of a presidential funeral; the other, a quiet predawn service. Men may be created equal, but they sure don’t die that way!

Yet despite all the differences, the two funerals did have one thing in common. Both men were buried in their beloved hometowns: Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Hussein in Ouija, Iraq. Even those who suffered under Hussein’s tyranny for decades could not deprive him of this basic human right. Strangely, of the two Jewish forebears who pass away in this week’s parsha, only one of them asks to be taken home.
When Israel (Jacob) realized that he would soon die, he called for his son Yosef… “Do for me a kindness and a truth, do not bury me in Egypt. I will lie
with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial plot.” (Bereishit 47:29-30)
When it came time for Yosef’s own passing, however, his last will was quite different.
Yosef said to his brothers, “I am dying. G-d will remember you and take you out of this land, to the land that He swore to Avraham, to Yitzchak and to Yaakov.
Yosef then bound the children of Israel by an oath: “[When] G-d remembers you, bring up my remains from here.” (Bereishit 50:24-25)
Ignoring the precedent set by his father, Yosef does not ask to be buried in Israel. His only request is that the Jews take his remains with them when they leave Egypt. (Although the Exodus does not take place for another century and a half, the promise was faithfully kept; cf. Exodus 13:19).

If Yosef would like to be buried in Israel, as is his inalienable right, why not go right away like his father? Wouldn’t that be a lot simpler? What is the point of waiting until the Exodus?

Another question: Ordinarily, a person who has a special request for his funeral arrangements discusses it with his children, not his siblings! Why does Yosef elicit this oath from his brothers and not from his capable sons?

This question is found in the Moshav Zekei’nim, a compilation of Torah commentary from 130 sages of the Tosafist school (circa 12-13th cent.). The book presents an excellent answer and it comes straight from the Talmud:
“Yosef’s bones, which the children of Israel had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem” (Joshua 24:32)…
Why Shechem? R. Chama the son of R. Chanina taught, “From Shechem they kidnapped him (cf. Bereishit 37:12-14) and so to Shechem his lost [body] must be returned.” (Sotah 13b)
It other words, returning Yosef to Shechem is an act of closure. Taking him out of Egypt, bringing him back to the scene of the crime and interring him there (in a pit!), would help fix the sin of the brothers. This is why Yosef gave the job to them and not to his sons.

But why wait for the Exodus? Why not do it now? The answer is that there can be no closure before the Egyptian exile is complete.

Why are the Jews in Egypt? The trajectory of the story is clear: The Jews are in Egypt because the brothers sold Yosef to slave traders. The Talmud says as much when it points out this lesson:
A person should never demonstrate favoritism toward one of his children, for a wool [garment] worth two Selah that Yaakov gave to Yosef and not to his other children inspired the jealousy of Yosef’s brothers. One thing led to the next and our fathers descended into Egypt. (Shabbat 10b)
It is no coincidence that the crime leads to the punishment. Divine justice is always poetic. The brothers sold Yosef as a slave and the nation is enslaved as a result. Poetic indeed.

The brothers knew that justice demanded their enslavement. After the death of their father Yaakov, they surrender to Yosef.
The brothers then came and fell before him. “Here, we are your slaves!” (Bereishit 50:18)
Yosef does not take them up on the offer. “Am I G-d?!” is his response. But that doesn’t mean that the brothers were wrong. As we all know, slavery is in the offing.
Divine justice is not only poetic, it’s productive too. If there is discord among the brothers, slavery is just the thing they need. There was no sibling rivalry or tribal chauvinism in Egypt. Slavery unites.

In the last scene of Genesis, Yosef prophesizes the eventual redemption of the nation from Egyptian bondage. On that day, said Yosef, our family will be whole again. Only then can you bring me home.

The Fourth Generation

The chief rabbi of England, Rabbi Sir Johnathan Sacks, sent out an email last night that dovetails nicely with my article on the "Pottery Barn Jew." Being that some have questioned the validity of my point, I am posting his piece here.

For several generations, indeed for more than a century, Jewish education was not at the forefront of our concerns…. Nevertheless, nothing devastating happened as a result. Jews continued to identify as Jews. They joined Synagogues. They married other Jews. They had Jewish children and raised them as Jews. Jewish life continued on the basis of habit, memory and tradition regardless of the fact that little was being done to renew it by Jewish study. If it could continue in this way for a century, why not longer, and indefinitely? We have only belatedly discovered that this is an illusion. What has changed? Why is this generation different from all other generations? The answer lies in what I call the fourth-generation phenomenon.

My grandparents were not born in this country. Many, even most, of the Jews in Britain had grandparents who came here in the great wave of immigration from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914. We are Anglo-Jews of the third generation.

It is an almost universal law that inherited wealth lasts three generations, not more. The same applies to inherited Judaism. Ours is the last generation that can remember booba and zeida from the heim with their fluent Yiddish and undiminished Yiddishkeit. Ours is the last generation for whom Jewish identity can be sustained by memory alone.

The Rebbe of Ger once pointed out that the 'four sons' of the Haggadah represent four generations. The wise son is the immigrant generation who still lives the traditions of the 'home'. The rebellious son is the second generation, forsaking Judaism for social integration. The 'simple' son is the third generation, confused by the mixed messages of religious grandparents and irreligious parents. But the child who cannot even ask the question is the fourth generation. For the child of the fourth generation no longer has memories of Jewish life in its full intensity.

Our children are children of the fourth generation. Already, it is clear that what we took for granted, they do not. They do not take it for granted that they will belong to an orthodox synagogue or indeed any synagogue. They do not take it for granted that they will marry, or that they will marry another Jew, or stay married. They do not take it for granted that they will have Jewish children or that it is important to do so. Nothing can be taken for granted in the fourth generation, least of all in a secular, open society in which even a common moral code is lacking.

The 'fourth-generation phenomenon' explains what is otherwise inexplicable, namely that the crisis of Jewish continuity has occurred in a single generation. The intermarriage rate among young Jews in the United States has risen from six per cent in 1960 to 57% in 1985. The rise in mixed marriage, non-marriage and divorce, and the corresponding fall in religious observance and Jewish affiliation, have occurred suddenly and with astonishing speed. There is no obvious explanation. There have been no dramatic shifts in the diaspora in respect of tolerance on the one hand, anti-Semitism on the other. The environment in which Jews live has not significantly changed. Why then have Jews changed? The answer is that the Jews who have chosen not to remain Jews are the great-grandchildren of those who arrived in Britain and America to escape the pogroms of Eastern Europe in the 1880's. They are the Jews of the fourth generation.

(From 'Will we have Jewish Grandchildren?' Published by Vallentine Mitchell 1994 – Pages 60-61)

Monday, January 1, 2007

The Power of a Smile

Last night, Miha Ahrononvitz posted a moving commentary on Parshat Vayigash in the comments to "The Pottery Barn Jew" - a short article by Sephardic Rabbi Pinchas Allouche of Phoenix, Arizona.

Even if it's a little schmaltzy, it's a great piece, so I'm putting it right here:

There is almost no doubt that the most touching episode in the Bible appears in this week's Torah portion. Joseph, who has miraculously become the viceroy of Egypt after being sold as a slave 22 years earlier, faces his brothers who do not recognize him. Convinced of his brothers' repentance and overcome with emotion, Joseph finally reveals himself to them. I invite everyone to delve into the verses in Genesis 45 that unravel this story. It is impossible for the reader to remain indifferent. Tears unwittingly stroll down the eyes, as the heart trembles with an inexplicable tremor of fear and compassion.

Yet it seems that our Sages did not consider including this episode in the selected name of our Torah portion. They preferred the name "Vayigash", "and he came near". And I ponder: if a name is a 'reflection of the soul' as Kabbalah explains, how does this name reflect the heartbreaking soul of our portion?

In the years preceding the holocaust, the great rabbi of Danzig, Germany preached to his community the age-old Jewish custom of greeting every passerby with a pleasant face. As a good teacher, he too would offer a warm "Gut Morgen" (good morning) to every person that crossed his way in the busy streets of Danzig, including a certain farmer, Her Muller. "Gut morgen Her Muller" he used to exclaim to him. "Gut Morgen, Her Rabbiner", the farmer would reply. When the dark cloud of evil descended upon Germany , the rabbi was sent to Auschwitz. As he stood in Mengele's infamous line, where he would decide who would live and who would die, he saw the farmer from Danzig standing before him in an SS uniform. The rabbi was gaunt and starved, hardly recognizable, but when he saw the farmer he said "Gut morgen Her Muller". The guard was surprised but instinctively replied Gut Morgen, Her Rabbiner, and quickly motioned that he should move, not towards death, but toward the work details, to life. By divine providence, my eyes crossed this astounding story just a few days ago, as I was looking for a satisfying answer to the aforementioned question. And I heard it echo loudly a simple yet vital lesson: When a person "Vayigash - comes near' to another, when he demonstrates genuine care toward his surroundings, he is also inadvertently tracing himself a path of personal freedom that may eventually affect his life profoundly.

In fact, Joseph's own redemption began with a similar gesture. If you recall, when Joseph sat in Egypt's prison, he noticed that Pharaoh's butler and baker were worried. So he asked Pharaoh's officials: "Why do you look so bad today?" (Genesis 40:6-7). They tell him about their troubling dreams, he accurately interprets the dreams, and the rest is history. This is perhaps why the name of our Torah portion is Vayigash – and he came near. Because Joseph's redemption, his unforgettable encounters with his brothers, his moving revelation, all began with a simple "vayigash", an unpretentious display of sincere care and concern for his fellow human beings. And ultimately this led Joseph to experience this climax of unprecedented emotions that we tearfully read about in this week's portion.

The renowned author Shay Agnon, once wrote: "Take care that the face that looks out from the mirror in the morning is a pleasant face. You may not see it again during the day, but others will." This is the lesson we ought to learn from 'Vayigash'. So when you conclude reading this article, and make your way out to the streets, don't forget to lend a hand, an ear, or just a few words of candid care to strangers and acquaintances alike. Who knows? It may eventually change not only their lives. But also yours.