Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Walk Article-Vayigash



Rabbi David Walk


            A few years back Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, wrote a fascinating article, as he always does.  I only saw it last week, and it got me to thinking about a critical moment in this week's Torah reading.  He developed an interesting idea about the leadership skills of Yosef.  Lord Sacks averred that Yosef's leadership was based on his mastery of dreams.  He had the three attributes of having dreams, interpreting dreams and fulfilling dreams.  The good Rabbi explained, 'Joseph's most impressive achievement, though, was his third gift, the ability to implement dreams, solving the problem of which they were an early warning.'  With some trepidation, I'd like to amend that third attribute.  I agree with Rabbi Sack's words when he discussed Pharaoh's dreams; Yosef knew just what to do to use those dreams to save Egypt and the known world.  However, with his own dreams I think that the reality is more complicated.

            We all remember Yosef's two dreams first about the sheaves of grain and then about the stars in heaven.  In both of those dreams all of the family members bow down to Yosef, making him the recognized leader in both areas of existence: the physical world and the spiritual realm.  When the brothers plotted against him they stated clearly, 'Let's see what comes of his dreams (Genesis 37:20).'  They assumed that the book was closed on Yosef's aspirations.  But Yosef never gave up.  Last week, as soon as he saw his brothers standing before him in supplication, metaphorical hats in hands, the verse records, 'Joseph knew who they were, but they didn't know who he was. Joseph, remembering the dreams he had dreamed about them, said, "You're spies. You've come to look for our weaknesses. (42:8-9)'" Many commentaries, the Ramban in the lead, explain that Yosef immediately decided to force the dreams come true.  He would arrange through his machinations first for all eleven brothers to bow down to him, as in dream #1, and only then for Ya'akov and Leah, the sun and moon of dream #2, to come to Egypt for the fulfillment of that dream.  It was a bold plan, but it never happened.

            In this week's Torah reading the touching moment finally arrives when Ya'akov reunites with his beloved son after decades apart. 'Joseph gave orders for his chariot and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. The moment Joseph saw him, he threw himself on his neck and wept. He wept a long time (46:9).'  What happened!  It's very touching, but Ya'akov doesn't bow!  And Leah's not even mentioned.  All that effort to actualize the dreams, down the drain!  How come?  The Rav, (Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, 1903-1993) explains (Thinking Aloud on the Parsha:  Breishis, p. 394-397) that if Ya'akov would have bowed then the ultimate malchut (kingship) of Israel would have belonged to Yosef and Yehuda.  That recognition by Ya'akov would have changed the destiny of the Jewish nation.  As we shall see in the blessings next week, great power and wealth are given to Yosef, but ultimate dominion is reserved for Yehuda.  The Rav goes on to explain that the decision to not bow was made by hashgacha (in this case not the OU, but Divine supervision, no trademarked symbol necessary).  If Yosef hadn't revealed himself during his debate with Yehuda over the fate of Binyamin, then Ya'akov would have down and bowed as part of a plea to save Binyamin.  But that scene, never transpired, because, according to the Rav hashgacha intervened.

            With great trepidation, I disagree.  I think that Yosef intervened.  Yosef knew that the fulfillment of the dreams would have sealed his destiny to be Israel's ultimate ruler.  However, Yosef was so great and wise that he saw in Yehuda a worthy opponent.  The Jewish nation deserved a competition between titans to determine the best leader.  He believed in the dreams inevitability until he saw how Yehuda had developed into such a caring person who took responsibility for his brothers.  Yehuda was wiling to sacrifice his own future to fulfill his promise to their father, and save Binyamin. 

            This all happened in an instant recorded with the expression v'lo yachol Yosef l'hitapek (Joseph could not hold himself back, 45:1).  The Rav interpreted that to mean hashgacha made him let down his disguise; Divine intervention overwhelmed his determination to maintain the charade. I think it means Yosef decided that he couldn't hold back the truth from his brothers any longer because it was more important to acknowledge Yehuda's growth and acceptance by the family.  For the first time in a very long period, perhaps many years, he saw a greater good than the fulfillment of the dreams.

            Rabbi Sacks said that Yosef was a dream master because he had the ability to implement his dreams.  I think that Yosef was the dream master because he knew when to discard the dream-or maybe to discard his earlier interpretation of the dream.  Yosef's descendants would attain much power and influence in the Jewish nation.  After all, Yehoshua and the kings of the northern kingdom would come from his family.  But the dreams could mean that his progeny would seize the power, and that ultimate control should belong elsewhere, namely to Yehuda, who had grown to command the respect of brothers and father.  Ya'akov's blessing for Yehuda really says it all, 'You, O Yehuda, your brothers shall acknowledge (49:8).'  And now Yosef acknowledged it, too.

             We all have dreams.  They are important to who we are and who we should become.  We must analyze those dreams to ascertain which are worth pursuing and which require shelving.  Yosef was amazing.  He had the dreams, he understood the dreams, and he could implement them all.  However, he also knew when to apply the brakes.  So, dear reader, dream on, but relegate some to the realm of fantasy, and work hard to make the right ones come true.  As Frank Sinatra crooned, 'It can happen to you.'