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Table for Five: Vayigash

An Emotional Reunion
[additional-authors]
December 21, 2023

One verse, five voices. Edited by Nina Litvak and Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me,” and they drew closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.”

– Gen. 45:4


Kari Gila Bookbinder Sacks
Therapist/Chai Lifeline case manager

Since the tragic day of Oct. 7th, Jews the world over have reconnected with each other and their Jewish identity. This bittersweet bonding is reflected in our Parsha, which tells the quintessential, deeply moving story of family reunification.

When Yosef tearfully asks his estranged siblings to approach, so he can finally reveal his identity and reunite with them under G-d, the Torah uses the expression “geshu-na elai vayyiggashu.” “Please come close to me, and they came close.” Chazal explain the term as not merely “to approach” but “to touch,” or forge the closest human connection possible.

Just as Yosef and his siblings, despite their past, couldn’t contain their love for each other — so, at this frightening time, there is a proliferation of unconditional loving kindness among us, despite our differences. The war itself is a protective act of love for our land and people. We see Jews of every background going out of their comfort zones to save, support and sacrifice for each other in all kinds of ways. How do we truly come close and understand each other’s needs? Eye contact. Actually seeing eye to eye allows us to best respond to others – family or foe. My Dad taught me figuratively to always look the “enemy” in the eye when confronting life’s challenges. In the merit of our brave soldiers literally facing our enemies and dying Al Kiddush Hashem, let us embrace as one caring family and bring the ultimate salvation to our precious nation. Am Yisroel Chai.


Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder, JewsForJudaism.org

On a sweltering summer day in Israel, my wife and I witnessed a horrible accident. A 14-year-old Israeli girl was hit by a car, thrown into the air, and crashed down on her head.

There is an expression, “Heroes are made, not born.” In my case, years of training as a police chaplain prepared me for this moment. While others froze, I ran to this girl’s side, and after determining that she was not breathing and had no pulse, I started CPR and brought her back to life. I am not a hero. However, it was not a coincidence that I was in the right place at the right time. King David’s statement, “The footsteps of man are established by God” (Psalms 37:23) teaches that God’s divine providence guides us to events such as this accident. Once we encounter a specific situation, our responsibility is to react and do the right thing.

Once Joseph identifies himself to his brothers, they are terrified that he will seek retribution for selling him into slavery. However, Joseph reassures them by proclaiming, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). By pointing out that it was God Who had orchestrated his descent to Egypt, Joseph was proclaiming the Jewish belief in Divine Providence. We need only to see through the world’s materialism and recognize that there is a higher power.


Cantor Michelle Bider Stone
Temple Beth Am

I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Israel with the L.A. Board of Rabbis, and what I am holding onto most are all the hugs. We met a leader from a southern kibbutz, staying at a hotel with his community while his family is elsewhere. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, yet his family isn’t by his side. I asked if I could give him a hug. One hug turned into four.

When we walked into a program bringing together Israeli and American rabbis for camaraderie and prayer, I didn’t know that a former colleague was the organizer. Once again, one hug wasn’t enough. I probably hugged him 10 times over the course of the night. When we visited Hostage Square, all we could do was hug tightly. In addition, I had waited seven long weeks to hug my close girlfriends.

In the previous verse, Joseph’s brothers are stunned silent when Joseph reveals himself after so many years. He tells them “Please come closer to me.” Our commentators give many reasons why Joseph asks them to come closer, but they miss the most obvious one. The brothers were in shock. They needed to feel held in this moment. The same now for the Jewish people. I experienced how each hug I gave in Israel repaired something shattered – for me and for them. Our family is suffering. We need to come closer, for both physical hugs and metaphorical hugs that can be felt across the ocean.


Rabbi Nicole Guzik
Senior Rabbi, Sinai Temple

At first glance, one might read the verse as implying Joseph seeking an immediate connection with his brothers. He takes one step towards his brothers, requesting a step towards him in return.

And yet, the rabbinic commentators do not read the text so simply. Sforno, an Italian commentator on the Torah, suggests Joseph feels embarrassed by his outbursts. His crying is loud, rouses interest and reaching out for his brothers is an attempt to minimize and cover his shame. Chizkuni, a French commentator, sees the approach as a sign of Joseph amplifying his brothers’ dignity, trying to draw attention away from the spectacle. In either case, Joseph’s reunion and admission is not something meant for public display. Even in his emotional state, perhaps Joseph knew that true reconciliation would only occur behind closed doors.

The last few months have been more than ugly between friends and family. I wholeheartedly believe lies and rhetoric must be publicly called out and dismissed. This is not a time for Jews to stand idly by. But I do believe the Torah suggests that if reconciliation is desired between friends or brothers, strategic steps must be considered. Steps that invite each other in. Steps that welcome understanding and minimize shame. In these darkest moments in Jewish history, we should open our eyes to those seeking friendship. Let’s invite them in, step by step. An amplification of renewed respect and dignity. A shared desire to walk forward in embrace.


Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Professor of Talmud, Yeshiva University

It is perhaps the most unexpected and the most dramatic moment of meeting in the entire Torah. How was it possible, the reader wonders, that Joseph – now ruler of Egypt – is able at last to confront the brothers who had long ago sold him into slavery, reveal his identity to them, and yet subdue desire for revenge and suppress hatred for brothers who horribly wronged him?

It is an act of piety that earns only Joseph, of all the patriarchs, the recipient of the title Tzadik in the Bible – Yosef Ha-tzadik, the righteous one. But what was his secret? How was it possible to transcend the anger of his betrayal, the fury against the abuse by his own family? A fascinating biblical commentary sees the answer hidden in the full phrase Joseph utters: “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.” After all these many years of prison, of turmoil, of changing circumstances from poverty to prominence – THE REAL ME HAS NOT CHANGED! I AM STILL YOUR BROTHER JOSEPH, SON OF JACOB.

Joseph was a victim but he never allowed himself to be victimized. He had every reason to hate but he understood that hating, as philosophers explain, is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat. Anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. It was the wisdom that enabled Viikctor Frankel to survive the horrors of the Holocaust: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Joseph’s secret was simply this: Joseph changed Egypt – but Egypt never changed Joseph.

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