Friday, December 25, 2009

Vayigash—Making the Call I

Vayigash provides us with the portrayal of two future leaders of the Jewish people operating in two respective emergency situations, but from very different vantage points of power. One uses the seat of power; the other threatens it.

From the top, Yosef oversees the implementation of a rather draconian series of emergency measures to save the Egyptian [and, by extension, the world] economy [see my Vayigash: States of Emergency for a treatment of this].

Yehuda—at least according to the text—approaches Yosef with all the respect due a polity’s second-in command to negotiate for the release of Binyamin. Rashi immediately goes to work to dispel this notion: Yehuda, he says, “spoke to Yosef harshly”, denigrated him as one who “decreed and did not execute”, and threatened to kill both “you [Yosef] and your master”. Yehuda was coming very close to breaking all manner of protocol.

[Theoretically, one might think that Yehuda actually managed to get Yosef for a closed-door session [“yedaber na avdecha davar be-aznei adoni”]; this might be belied by the climactic moment when Yosef finally reveals himself, as the first thing he does is clear the room. Not that it helps: everybody knows by the end of the posuk. Maybe the Pharaonic court had Twitter.]

Either way, we see that the maturation processes of both Yehuda and Yosef—the progenitors of both of our eventual Meshichos—doevtailed almost perfectly at this point in the narrative: Yehuda has finally proven that he wasn’t being impetuous when he lays his olam haba on the line in last week’s parsha to convince Yaakov that the trip to Egypt with Binyamin was necessary, and here he demonstrates his ability to back it up. Yosef—who has already “earned his stripes”, as it were, with his ascent to power paralleling his dreams to that effect—finally recognizes that this point has been reached, preceisely because Yehuda has earned the right to “make the call”.

In next week’s parsha I will show more examples of where certain “calls” made by other shevatim could be overturned on the evidence, and where they couldn’t be but weren’t necessarily the right ones. Just an example from Miketz, however, will provide a hint of sorts: before Yehuda convinces Yaakov to send Binyamin to Egypt with the rest of the brothers, Reuven tries—in a very awkward manner [see 42:37, 38 and Rahi on 38, where he has Yaakov thinking that Reuven’s idea—“my two sons will die”—rendered him a shoteh. More on this to come.]

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