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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Parshat Vayigash

"The Plowman Shall Overtake the Harvester…"

So long as the nation is divided it is susceptible to the "defilement and detestable things." Only when we are united as "one nation in the land," with one shepherd leading us, are we able to truly follow God's statues, and safeguard His laws.
Dedicated to the memory of
Ezra Ben Ma'atuk Ha'Cohen Z"l
1. "The plowman shall overtake the harvester..."
2. Judah the Plowman; Judah the Treader of Grapes
3. Joseph - Provider of Sustenance
4. Ox and Lion - Brothers Join Forces
5. "For your servant became a guarantor for the lad..."
6. A Future Reconciliation

"The plowman shall overtake the harvester..."
"Then Judah came near to him..." (Genesis 44:18). Regarding these words the Midrash teaches: "'Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the harvester; and the treader of grapes, he that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt' (Amos 9:13). [The sages find it difficult to understand how the plowman and harvester or the treader of grapes and he that sows seed will meet each other if each performs his labor in a different season of the year. They therefore saw these titles as hinting at other personages:]
'The plowman' represents Judah, as the verse states (Hosea 10:11): 'I will make Ephraim to ride, Judah shall plow.'
'The harvester' is Joseph, as the verse states (Genesis 37:7): 'Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field.'
'The treader of grapes' is Judah, as the verse states (Zechariah 9:13): 'For I bend (lit. "tread") Judah for me."
'The sower of seed' is Joseph, for he sowed the seed of Jacob his father and caused him to descend to Egypt, and, as the verse states (Hosea 11:4): 'I drew them with cords of a man.'
'The mountains shall drop sweet wine' refers to the twelve tribes; they said, 'Kings are deliberating among themselves. But it is of no concern to us.'"
Let us attempt to understand why it is that Judah and Joseph have been given these names.

Judah the Plowman; Judah the Treader of Grapes
It would appear that the unique quality in each of them, and their importance as far as the nation is concerned, is being given expression here. Judah is referred to as 'the plowman' and 'the treader of grapes.' Plowing is preparatory work that readies the earth for planting. Treading grapes, though, is an integral part of the production of wine. We see, then, that Judah possesses two dissimilar characteristics. On the one hand, the capacity of preparation; on the other, the capacity for producing a finished product. Interestingly, when Jacob blesses Judah, after pronouncing him king over Israel with the declaration (Genesis 49:11): "Judah is a lion's whelp," he adds: "Binding unto the vine his foal, and to the vine branch the son of his she ass...His eyes are red from wine...." Rashi, in his commentary ad locum, elucidates this phrase, explaining that Jacob "prophesied of the land of Judah that it would run with wine like a fountain," which would cause the eyes of those who drink it to turn red.
It certainly is no coincidence that of all the tribal portions it is the land of Judah which produces wine for the Nation of Israel. In the words of King David (Psalm 104:15): "Wine makes merry the heart of man." Wine is not a staple of man, and it is possible that a man will survive a hundred years without drinking wine once. But wine adds joy to life, and therefore contributes to the fullness of life. The same can be said of kingship as well. Jews can persist as individuals in the Exile. History teaches us this fact, for Jews have lived scattered among the nations for many hundreds of years without any unified "Kingdom of Israel." Yet, this cannot be regarded as "complete" life from a national point of view, the kind of existence which necessarily has an impact on the quality of life of each and every individual. When the Jewish people are settled upon their own soil with one king ruling over them, the social order attains perfection and enemies pose no threat. The role of the kingdom, then, is to raise the quality of life, just as, to a degree, wine does.
Not only in the material arena does wine make its influence felt; wine influences the spiritual realm as well. Yotham ben Gideon, in his parable before the citizens of Shechem (Judges 9:13) says of new wine that it "brings joy to God and to man." Yochanan ben Uziel explains that wine is poured out as a libation before God. The kingdom, too, not only brings the nation to a state of material perfection, it causes an improvement in its spiritual quality as well. Therefore, Judah is referred to as "the treader of grapes."

Joseph - Provider of Sustenance
Joseph, on the other hand, receives the title "the harvester." He provides the essential foodstuffs which man needs in order to survive. The sheaves which Joseph sees in his dream hint at the fact that, without this beloved son, Jacob and his entire family were liable to die of starvation. More than this, Joseph causes his father and brothers to immigrate to Egypt, and there they grow into a nation. Egypt is the necessary soil for the growth of this seed, the soil needed in order to allow it to grow into a leafy tree.
Judah is plowman because he said, "What do we stand to gain by killing our brother. Let us instead sell him." He caused Joseph to be sold to the Egyptians. In doing this, he prepared the soil for the actions of Joseph. The actual provider of sustenance, though, is Joseph. He may be likened to a harvester of grain which is ready for harvest. The rest of the tribes do little more than occupy the sidelines, for Judah and Joseph are the kings who act on behalf of the People of Israel.

Ox and Lion - Brothers Join Forces
For nearly all of the Jewish people's history these two forces worked separately. There were those who strove to perfect the national element in Israel, while others poured their efforts into strengthening the spiritual nature of the nation. The prophet Amos prophecies that there will come a time wherein these two forces will meet and act together. It is possible that the first to appear will be the Messiah from the House of Joseph who acts with the aim of consolidating the nation on a national-material level. He will be followed by the Messiah from the House of David, as Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) writes in his Halakhic compendium, "Mishna Torah," at the end of the chapter entitled "The Laws of Kings":
"If a King from the House of David should rise and wage wars victoriously and cause the people to return to the service of God, he is presumed to be the Messiah. And if he rebuilds the Holy Temple he is unquestionably the Messiah."
As noted, the purpose of a King from the House of Judah is to cause the people to return to the service of God and to build the Holy Temple, the most central house of worship on earth.

The sages of Midrash Tanchuma also teach us:
"'The envy of Ephraim shall also depart' (Isaiah 11:13). This verse is said concerning Joseph and Judah, for R. Shemuel bar Nachman said in the name of R. Yonatan: While Judah and Joseph were busy arguing with one another, the ministering angels said to each other: Come and see an ox and a Lion engaged in conflict with one another. Envy resides between them until the arrival of the Messiah. Hence, 'The envy of Ephraim shall also depart.'"

The ox hints at the material side and "much increase is by the strength of the ox" (Proverbs 14:4). The strength of Joseph is also in the earth, and he is responsible for "the precious things of the fruits of the sun," and "the precious things of the yield of the moons, "the precious things of the earth and the fullness thereof (Deuteronomy 33:14-16). Judah, on the other hand is a lion, a king. According to the natural order of things, the ox is frightened of the lion, yet here they are locked in battle. To the contrary, it appears that the ox is getting the upper hand. This is what the sages of the Midrash teach:
"'Wisdom is a stronghold to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city' (Ecclesiastics 7:19), 'Wisdom is a stronghold to the wise man' refers to Joseph; 'than ten rulers' refers to the brothers."
The king is nothing without a kingdom. Joseph is the one who erects the nation, and therefore his power is the first to prevail. Judah, the king, is responsible for uniting the nation under one government, and for mending the schism within the family of Jacob which resulted from the selling of Joseph. This is what the Sages say in Midrash Rabba (93:9):
"R. Chiyyah bar Abba said: All of the words spoken by Judah to Joseph that one reads up until the words 'And Joseph could not contain himself any further' contained conciliation toward Joseph, conciliation toward the brothers, and conciliation toward Benjamin: conciliation toward Joseph: Just look at how he sacrifices himself for the son's of Rachel; conciliation toward the brothers: Just look at how he sacrifices himself for his brothers; conciliation toward Benjamin: He said to him, just as I have sacrifice myself for you, so do I sacrifice myself for your brothers."

We find, then, that not only was Joseph in need of conciliation, all of the brothers were as well. This is because at the time of the selling of Joseph, the bond between the brothers became loosened. Judah, through his words, was able to effect a rejuvenation of the brotherly bond. This is what caused Joseph to become so emotionally overwhelmed, to the point where he revealed himself to his brothers.

"For your servant became a guarantor for the lad..."
Yet this is somewhat puzzling, for Judah certainly had more at stake than the rest of the brothers, as is apparent from his words to Joseph: "For your servant became a guarantor for the lad unto my father saying: If I fail to bring him to you I shall bear the blame to my father for ever" (Genesis 44:32). This being the case, what is so remarkable about the fact that Judah risks his life in an attempt to redeem Benjamin? The answer to this question may be in the fact that when Reuben says to his father Jacob, "You may slay my two sons if I fail to bring him (Benjamin) to you; deliver him into my hand and I will bring him back to you" (ibid. 42:37), Jacob demurs. Rashi, in his commentary ad locum, brings the words of the Sages, who explain that Jacob responded: "They are your children, not mine." Yet, when Judah offered himself as a surety, Jacob acquiesced. On the face of things, it is not clear why Jacob turned down Reuben's offer. Reuben, knowing that his children's lives are at stake, could surely be trusted to do whatever is necessary in order to guarantee that Benjamin return safe and sound. Reuben does not know if his father will actually perform this act or not. Judah's pledge, on the other hand, according to a plane understanding of the text, is little more than words. Judah himself, while making his case before Joseph does not say that he will lose something because of his guarantee. Rather, he says: "For how shall I go up to my father if the lad be not with me? How will I look at the pain that shall come on my father" (ibid. 44:34).
It appears that the difference between Reuben and Judah is that while Reuben is not especially concerned about Benjamin, he desires to satisfy his father who is worried about losing his youngest son. Hence, Jacob reasoned that a person who is willing to give up his sons does not adequately sense the fatherly bond, and therefore cannot be depended upon to herald redemption. Judah, on the other hand, says: "I will act as a guarantor," filling the place of the debtor, and a partner with him. The very act of becoming a guarantor for Benjamin evidenced that he and Benjamin were intimately bound. When Jacob heard this he was willing to deal. It was this very approach which gave rise to the debate between Judah and Joseph. Joseph and Benjamin and the rest of the brothers were aware of the fact Judah did more that just talk. Judah understood as fully as possible the meaning if the word "guarantor" - "For your servant became a guarantor for the lad unto my father." In other words, he and I are one.
If one try to reason, saying: "After all, in Joseph's eyes, Benjamin was guilty of transgression; why should Judah have to pay?" Judah's response to this is, "How will I look at the pain that shall come on my father." When Joseph observed that Judah had undergone a change and now saw brotherhood as the key element and foundation for the revival of Israel, he could not contain himself.
When Joseph was absent from the home, the brothers grasped the great value of the completeness of the tribes of Israel. The degree to which they felt lacking when Joseph was not present becomes apparent in the self-sacrifice demonstrated by the brothers - with Judah at their head - to redeem Joseph at all costs. The affair with Benjamin proved this.

A Future Reconciliation
The schism in the House of Israel was an indication that the nation's future would possess internal rivalry, especially between Joseph and Judah. When the Kingdom of Israel was divided in two kingdoms during the time of Rechoboam ben Shelomo, Jeroboam ben Nebat of the tribe of Ephraim son of Joseph was king over Israel. This factionalism continued to have a negative effect not only upon the material aspect of the nation, but upon the spiritual as well.
This is evidenced in the Book of Ezekiel (37:16):
"And you, son of man, take for yourself one stick, and write upon it: For Judah and for the Children of Israel his companions; then take another stick, and write upon it: For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and of all the house of Israel his companions; and then join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak unto you, saying: Will you not tell us what you mean by these? say to them: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions; and I will put them upon him together with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in my hand...Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, to where they have gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and One king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all; neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will save them out of all their dwelling places wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them; so shall they be My people, and I will be their God."

So long as the nation is divided it is susceptible to the "defilement of idolatry and detestable things," and only when we are united as "one nation in the land," with one shepherd leading us, are we able to truly follow God's statues, and safeguard His laws.
The conciliation of Joseph and his brothers laid the foundation for the future solidarity of the nation, in the Days of the Messiah, may he come speedily in our time.
Some of the biblical verses in the above article were taken from, or based upon, JPS's "The Holy Scriptures."
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