Shabbat Vayigash 5777–Shabbat Torah Study at Adat Shalom –Why We Are Yehudim

This week’s Parasha includes the great reveal and the reunion of Joseph with his brothers in general and Judah in particular. Joseph is referred to as the Tzaddik—the righteous one. Judah is the brother who recommended that Joseph be sold as a slave. Judah is also the brother who later has the awkward relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Our Sages have debated why, as between Joseph “the Righteous” and Judah, the “not so righteous,” the royal kingship, leadership of our people, the fact that we are named– Yehudim, and the Moshiach is related to Judah and his lineage.

The fact is that while Joseph is the righteous one, he is also the one for whom everything seems to always turn out right, who is the favorite son, whose dreams always come true and who is privileged to see God’s blessings manifest in his life and during his lifetime. Judah, on the other hand, experiences real life problems, deals with difficult and awkward situations, loses children during his lifetime, but who not only survives, but is exemplary in learning from his mistakes, improving and refining himself and taking responsibility for his actions.

We learn that the best leaders are frequently those with real life experiences of challenge and adversity, those who have fallen, but who get up again and again.

No doubt Joseph was great, even remarkable and extraordinary, but our tradition teaches us that Judah is the kind of person that each of us actually has a chance to be and who we should strive to be.

The Hebrew root word for Yehuda—Judah’s name in Hebrew—means two things. First, it means to be thankful—“Todah,” “Hodaot,” and “L’hodot” – for example. Second, it means to admit and confess as in the “Viduy” the confessional of Yom Kippur. Judaism does not expect perfection in thought, word or deed. We may aspire to true righteousness, to being a Tzaddik, but that is a level very few can achieve. Judaism does expect us to take responsibility for our actions, to live up to our commitments and to constantly strive for ways to improve, to own our mistakes and learn from them. It expects us to be thankful and to express gratitude for our blessings.

That is the lesson of Judah when he offered himself as a slave to save Benjamin and when he admitted his own wrongdoing to save Tamar’s life when it would have been just as easy to remain silent, not admit his guilt and walk away.

Those are the true virtues we hope will guide us. We can’t all be a Joseph. We could all be Judahs. Our faith is beautiful in its recognition that mistakes are a part of life. It is what we make of them and how we respond or react to them that matters most.

This Shabbat we are privileged to learn with Rabbi Jason Miller who help us with new insights on the great reveal told in this Parasha. He states, “Face time is so much more than seeing, it involves all the senses; it is an encounter. Such “face time” is central to personal interactions as expounded by Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship or Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics of face-to-face encounters. We will look at the panim el panim (face to face) reunion between Joseph and his brothers. What can we surmise about the heightened emotions of this reunion. How would you have reacted to this reunion if you were Joseph? What if you were one of the brothers?”

Shabbat Torah Study begins at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel.

Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Adat Shalom is a wonderful place to be for a warm Shabbat experience, for connections and community, for what it means to love being Jewish.

Shabbat Shalom,


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