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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash: Relax – He’s Your Brother

Submitted by on December 25, 2011 – 2:29 amNo Comment | 2,282 views

Disclaimer: It is commonly held that two subjects to be avoided in polite company are politics and religion…lest we offend.
This essay shamelessly addresses both.

Family Feuds

Brothers often bicker, we know that, but that doesn’t mean they should become enemies. When brothers turn against each other the entire fabric of society is destroyed. Civil wars are the most destructive because it turns brother against brother. Family feuds cause the most resentment because it is brother against brother. The entire edifice crumbles when what is meant to be together, comes apart.In these situations the blame game is always played. Each side blames the dysfunction on the other side, but both know it’s not true. The true reason for their enmity is that brothers have turned on each other.

Judah and Joseph

Take the famous Biblical example of Judah and Joseph. There was a famine across the entire region and people were starving, but the Egyptian viceroy, who had foreseen the famine and stocked resources in advance, opened his storehouses and put the food on sale.

People streamed to Egypt from across the region to purchase food, among them, Judah and his brothers, who arrived from Canaan. The brothers made their purchase and departed for home, but were soon overrun by an Egyptian patrol. They were told that the viceroy’s personal goblet had gone missing and all bags were to be inspected. To the brothers’ dismay the goblet was found in Benjamin’s bag.

Benjamin was promptly arrested and led away in chains, but the brothers refused to forsake him and followed him to the Viceroy’s palace. Judah, convinced of Benjamin’s innocence, approached the viceroy to plead his case.

He accused the viceroy of entrapment. He told him that they had come to Egypt to buy food, but that the viceroy had singled them out and pestered them for details about the family. It was the viceroy, accused Judah, who insisted that Benjamin be brought to Egypt and it is the viceroy who, by imprisoning Benjamin, would destroy the family. (1)

This as far as the Bible takes us, but our oral tradition, preserved and documented by the Talmudic sages, provides further detail. The sages taught that Judah was a powerful warier and when he roared in rage the large pillars trembled sending shockwaves across the palace and knocking Pharaoh from his throne. Judah threatened to make war and laid plans to attack the Egyptian capital, but the viceroy suddenly ordered everyone, but the brothers, to vacate the chamber and finally revealed his identity. How astounded they were to hear the powerful viceroy address them in Hebrew to tell them he is their long lost brother Joseph, whom they had sold into slavery twenty-two years ago.


Let us analyze this event. Judah perceived Joseph’s actions as a threat to his family and saw Joseph as his enemy. Joseph remembered that Judah had once sold him into slavery and perceived Judah as his enemy. Joseph orchestrated the entire charade to see if Judah had undergone a change of heart and was now committed to family.

Joseph saw Judah as the enemy and tested him to protect his family. Judah saw Joseph as the enemy and threatened to make war to protect his family. The truth was that neither was an enemy. Both sides were committed to the family and the only thing threatening them was the tension between them.

In Israel

It is fascinating that the more things change the more they remain the same. Human nature plays the same petty games today that it did in Biblical times. The lessons that the Torah imparts through these ancient tales are timeless; as relevant today as thousands of years ago.

Today too brothers tear at each other, each believing the other is the enemy though truthfully their only danger comes from the tension between them.

It is no secret that the Jewish community in Israel is divided into two artificial camps, Chilonim and Datim, loosely translated as religious and secular. Chilonim accuse Datim of imperiling the country by studying Torah rather than serving in the army. Datim believe that the Chilonim imperil the country because the chosen people can only survive in the Holy Land when living in accordance with the Divine dictate of Torah. (3)

In truth, however, neither side is destroying the country. On the contrary, both contribute to its security. Israel’s security requires a dual approach. A strong army to protect against its enemies and strength of spirit derived from faith, tradition and Torah study to confer G-d’s blessing upon the nation.

Each camp provides one of these two pieces. It is sad that both camps are not able to provide both pieces, but that is today’s reality. Just as real, however, is the fact that neither camp threatens the security of the country. On the contrary, both work toward its preservation. The only threat to the country is the enmity between them for each brother believes the other his enemy. (3)

In The United States

A similar drama plays out in the United States, where the current political climate is terribly polarized. Conservatives believe that Liberals undermine the values on which the country was founded with their philosophy of wealth redistribution while Liberals contend that Conservatives are polarizing the country by widening the gap between its wealthy and poor. Each believes the other is the enemy, but in truth they are brothers. (4)

Neither opinion is entirely correct or incorrect. Both make valid points and both want the country to succeed. This is the tug and pull of democracy and the way it is designed to work. The only danger to the country is the enmity between the parties, which can lead to confusion and stalemate.

It is quite amazing that the more things change the more they remain the same. Judah and Joseph discovered this truth thousands of years ago. On many occasions we have heeded their wisdom and found happiness and prosperity. But we often ignore it at our own peril and when we do it behooves us to turn to the Torah for its timeless wisdom and relevant teachings.


  1. Genesis: 43-45
  2. Midrash Tanchumah Vayigash ch. 5.
  3. This essay was written before the recent events in Beit Shemesh and does not address the egregious actions taken against others, especially children, in the name of religion. Such behavior is unacceptable by any standard. It is true that we are brothers and it is true that we can work together if we stopped to realize that we are a single family, but this story highlighted the gulf that is tearing this family apart. The repulsive behavior of this community, the verbal attacks against this community and the counter verbal attacks by this community served to underscore the chasm that divides this hurting family. As a family we can move to dialogue instead of battle and to understanding instead of conflict. But first we must realize that we are a family.
  4. This is just a microcosm of the long list of
    grievances each camp holds against the other, but the salient point of
    this essay applies to all aspects of their

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