Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayigash
To dedicate this lesson

From Toddler To Tzadik


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Life is filled with all kinds of surprises. Some are quite pleasant, while others, alas, can be shocks to the system, rude awakenings. Some surprises are so all-encompassing that they fall into the category of a Revelation.

Avraham and Sara experienced this when they were blessed with a child; Yitzchak when he realized that Esav was not the "model son" he thought he was. In our Sedra, Yosef’s brothers certainly are shocked & surprised to learn that Yosef is alive & well, & that all his seemingly fantastical dreams have actually come true.

But Yosef, too – though he occupies center stage and is the lead actor in this amazing drama - also has an epiphany.

I believe this moment comes when he "unmasks" and asks his brothers to confirm the fact that his father Yakov is still alive. "Ha’od avi chai?!" Yosef asks. The Soforno succinctly comments: "Yosef was really asking, ‘Is it possible that my father is still alive, that he did not die from anguish & worry about me, his missing son?!’ " It’s almost as if Yosef is saying, "How dare my father still be alive, with all that I, Yosef, have gone through!"

At that moment, Yosef understands that all that’s been happening in his family’s life – while it has indeed been centered around him to a great extent - is not ONLY about him. There are other dynamics at work, too; there is a bigger picture - the puzzle is much larger than just his individual piece.

At that point, Yosef stops feeling sorry for himself and embraces his brothers in love & reconciliation. "G’shu na aylai, vayigashu - come closer to me, and they came close," says the pasuk, employing the same term which connects back to the title of our Sedra, Vayigash; the title is always the key to the parsha's deeper message.

Yosef began his life being described as a "na’ar," an immature and impetuous youth who stared in the mirror and curled his hair; but he ends up being known as "Yosef Ha-Tzadik – the righteous one." How does he make that colossal jump? Well, it starts by realizing that the whole world does not necessarily revolve around him, that, yes, he is vital, but he is also part of a greater community.

When a baby cries, he receives all of his needs – food, a diaper change, a hug or a cuddle – almost immediately. He thinks that he controls everything around him, that it’s all about him. But as he grows older, and matures, he begins to understand that he is not the end all and be all, that people have their own lives to live, too. That is not an easy morsel to digest; it can be quite painful. But the transition from selfish to selfless is a huge step in the growth process, and it is what ultimately turns a katan into a Gadol.
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