Monday, December 21, 2009

So Many Approaches! / Vayigash

The crescendo in the drama of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers reaches its climax in the beginning of parshat Vayigash.
Then Judah approached him [Joseph] and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are the equal of Pharaoh.” (Genesis 44:18)
Judah recounts at length the series of events that brought the brothers to Egypt, as well as their previous interactions with Joseph. Judah still does not know that the powerful and intimidating vizier of Egypt is his younger brother sold into slavery so many years earlier.

Midrash Beraishit Rabbah (93:6), ever sensitive to language, considers the opening words of our parashah, vayigash eilav Yehudah (“then Judah approached him). Three interpretations are offered, each speculating on Judah’s mindset as he approaches the grand vizier of Egypt.
Said Rabbi Judah: “he approached" (vayigash) for battle, as in the verse, So Joab and the people that were with him approached unto battle (II Samuel 10:13).

Rabbi Nechemiah said: “he approached" (vayigash) for conciliation, as in the verse, Then the children of Judah approached Joshua (Joshua 14:6).

The Sages said: It implies coming near for prayer, as in the verse, And it came to pass at the time of the evening offering, that Elijah the prophet approached... (I Kings 18:36).

Rabbi Eleazar combined all these views: I come whether for battle, for reconciliation, or for prayer.
Judah approached Joseph ready for war (if necessary), prepared to protect his brothers, open to reconciliation (if that was possible), and preparing through prayer. Why prayer? Judah remained open to possibilities, and prayer opened a channel for God to play a role in the encounter, providing strength and support to Judah to seek reconciliation and avoid war, just as his father Jacob had approached Esau after their 22-year separation with his heart and mind open to the possibility and hope of reconciliation.

The attitude we bring to an encounter with another can spell the difference between all-out war and reconciliation. Often we are unaware of the attitude we project and how it influences the nature and outcome of our interactions. Yet our expectations influence the tone and vocabulary of our communication, as well as our body language, and thereby influence the direction of the conversation. Politicians who convey willingness to compromise are most successful. Bosses who convey confidence and offer support are the most esteemed. Spouses who convey appreciation foster generosity. Parents who convey genuine interest in listening hear much more about their children’s lives. Inviting God into the conversation through mindfulness will help us achieve avoid more battles and achieve more reconciliations.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

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