Gen. 44:18 – 47:27
Rabbi Gary Pokras
VaYiGash means “and he approached.” This week we arrive at the dramatic climax of the Joseph story: where Judah approached the viceroy of Egypt to offer himself as a prisoner in exchange for his brother Benjamin – not knowing that the viceroy was none other than his long-lost brother Joseph.
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman notes that whenever any of us approaches another person, we are presenting ourselves. She goes on to describe how Judah has presented previously in the text, in a consistently less than positive way. After he and his brothers slaughtered of the people of Shechem he stole their wealth and possessions (Gen. 34), he told his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit and sell him into slavery (Gen. 37), and he mistreated his daughter-in-law Tamar terribly (Gen. 38).1
Yet, in this week’s parasha, we see a very different Judah. He acts with selflessness and integrity, staying true to his promise to protect Benjamin. How different this moment is! Benjamin, like Joseph, is the favored son of Jacob. Judah envied and hated Joseph but learned to love Benjamin. Judah threw Joseph into the pit but offered to take Benjamin’s place in Pharoah’s dungeon (another kind of pit). Previously, he acted only out of selfishness. Now he acts with compassion and selflessness.
In other words, he has learned from his mistakes. He has grown. And in his plea to redeem Benjamin, he also redeemed himself. In his honor, our people are not only called Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) but also Yehudim (Jews).
No matter how significant our mistakes have been, we are always capable of redeeming ourselves through examining our mistakes and finding ways to be better. This is the meaning of Yom Kippur, and so many other aspects of our tradition. It is not always easy, and can be personally painful, but so long as we breathe it is never too late.