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Parashat Vayigash 5779 — 12/15/2018

Parashat Vayigash 5779 — 12/15/2018

Bereishit 44:18-47:27

Our parashah brings Ya’akov back into the picture after a hiatus of almost two parshiyyot that deal with the saga of Yosef and his brothers. The parashah begins with a meeting, a drawing close (Yehudah approaches Yosef, which triggers the reconciliation process) and later on, Yosef and Ya’akov approach one another after a lapse of 22 years. The family unit is, once again, intact. In fact, having been sundered once and reforged, perhaps the bonds are stronger than before.

When we left Ya’akov two parshiyyot ago, he had wrestled with an angel and had been given a new name, Yisrael. R. Goldin comments: The etymology of the names indicates that “Ya’akov” connotes struggle while “Yisrael” reflects supremacy. There have been name changes in the Patriarchal family prior to this: Avram became Avraham and Sarai became Sarah. Both those cases indicate an expansion from a local value to a universal value, and both are permanent. Once Gd gives Avraham and Sarah their new names they are forever known by those names, and, according to some, it is actually a transgression of Torah law to refer to them by their old names. In the Bible, and in Hebrew in general, a name indicates the essence of a person or a thing. When that essence changes, the name changes. It would seem that this would be an irreversible process.

In the case of Ya’akov/Yisrael, however, there is no irreversibility at all. From verse 45:25 through 46:6 we find Ya’akov twice, Yisrael three times, then Ya’akov 4 times (or 5 if you count the doubled call from Gd in 46:2 twice) interspersed with a “B’nei Yisrael.” Why can’t Gd make up his mind what to call Ya’akov/Yisrael?!

R. Goldin presents some interesting possibilities:
Some authorities claim that the altering of Ya’akov’s name remains unfinished because, in his case, the phenomenon is not personal but prophetic. The name fluctuation reflects the impending historical journey of his descendants [RAR: that includes us!], a journey that will be marked by times of struggle [Ya’akov] as well as periods of triumph [Yisrael].
The Sforno, for example, suggests that Ya’akov’s full transformation to Yisrael must wait until the end of days. …
The Ohr haChaim maintains that the earlier name changes of Avram to Avraham and Sarai to Sarah were not really “name changes” at all, but enhancements. In these cases only one letter of each name was changed and the original titles remained embedded in the new ones. … In Ya’akov’s case, however, the total name transformation from Ya’akov to Yisrael would have entailed the eradication of his first name. Such an act would have symbolized the rejection of Ya’akov’s spiritual development to this point.

The common thread running through all these approaches is that a name is not an arbitrary label for something or someone. This idea goes all the way back to Adam, who gives all creatures their names,

And He brought them [i.e. the animals and birds] to Adam to see what he would call name, and whatever the man called these living creatures, that was their name. [Gen 2:19]

In Avraham and Sarah’s case, Avram (“Exalted father”) becomes Avraham (“Exalted father of multitudes”) and Sarai (“My Princess”) becomes Sarah (“The Princess” par excellence).– a change in degree, but not in kind. In Ya’akov’s case, he underwent a complete makeover. From a sneaky younger brother, he emerges having struggled with Lavan, with Esav (both personally and via Esav’s angel), and is older, wiser, and the head of a clan which will become the Jewish people, with its unique mission to bring Gd out of hiding.

Perhaps this is the significance of the impermanence of Ya’akov’s new name. Ya’akov was the name given him at birth, his “human” name so-to-speak. Upon his return to the Land of Israel with 11 of the 12 tribes, and the 12th on the way, Ya’akov is now the founder of the Jewish people. The people are about to transition from a family to a nation. The people, in its national existence, is always known as Yisrael. Yisrael then is a more universal name; it applies to Ya’akov in his role as the founder of the nation, and it applies to the nation itself. Perhaps we can answer R. Goldin’s question what is happening with the Patriarch’s names this way. Ya’akov is, at this point, in the middle of a transition. He is an individual, with his individual and family concerns, but he is also the beginning of a great nation. Since his thinking and action are alternating between these two levels, his name alternates too.

There is a difference between the thinking and action of an individual and that of a communal leader. An individual acts according to his or her individual level of consciousness. A communal leader is a representative of the community, and acts according to the collective consciousness of that community. In Ya’akov’s case, this community is the idealized community of Yisra’el. Hence his name, which, in Hebrew, reflects his essence, must be Yisra’el. That name also reflects our communal essence, and that essence is perfection, as the Zohar tells us – “Araissa v’Yisrael v’Kudsha Brich Hu chad hu” – Torah, the Holy One Blessed Be He and Tisra’el are one. As the first two are perfect, it is our duty to perfect ourselves and the world around us so that our reality matches our ideal, and we truly deserve the name Yisra’el.

Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parsashat Vayigash
Parshah Vayigash (“and he drew near”)
In this parshah, Joseph is reunited with his family – with his brothers, his sister Dinah, and most importantly, his father, Jacob. This is a taste of the reunion of light and darkness, all of the diversity of creation with the Unity that is God.

It is a taste of teshuvah, a taste of what life is like when the isolation of individuality is graced by the Wholeness of God and all limitations dissolve in the Unlimitedness of God.

The opportunity for the reunion occurs, when famine strikes in the region around Egypt, Mitzrayim (restrictions), including Canaan (Synchronicity), Jacob sends 10 of his sons to purchase food from Mitzrayim , which due to Joseph’s gift of perceiving Gd’s message in dreams, has stored up food during fat years for the seven famine years that are now occurring.

Joseph, de facto ruler of Mitzrayim, recognizes his brothers though they do not recognize him. He plays tricks on them in order to get not only his brothers—streams of the Ocean of Wholeness that is his father—but his father, the whole ocean, to come to Mitzrayim and to raise it still further in Wholeness, greater than the degree of Wholeness to which it has risen with Joseph as its de facto ruler.

One of the tricks is to hide a silver goblet in his brother Benjamin’s bag and then to discover it and claim that Benjamin, most dear to his father Jacob since Joseph was no longer with him, was a thief and must serve as Joseph’s slave.

The reunion begins when Judah draws near to Joseph, appealing to him that he will serve as slave to Joseph, instead of his brother Benjamin, child of his father Jacob’s old age.

Joseph is moved by Judah’s loyalty to his father and reveals that he is their brother Joseph, saying for them not to regret their selling him into slavery because it was all ordained by God to save the family at time of famine.

“Drawing near” is a means to get a taste of the reunification not only of Joseph’s family but also of all individuals with Gd. Torah gives a hint of more unification by sometimes calling Jacob, “Jacob” and sometimes “Israel.”  “Jacob” means “heel,” spirituality clinging to the heel of materialism. “Israel” means something like “in the Splendor of Gd,” “embracing Gd,” “prevailing over Gd.”

When given the news that Joseph is alive and functional master of Egypt, as Jacob he is mistrustful. But he sees the wealth Joseph gave to his brothers, “his spirit is revived” and now he believes Joseph is still alive. He is called “Israel” and as Israel he sets out for Egypt, making offerings to God at Beersheba.

When we trust that all happens according to Gd’s Will, that everything is done with the purpose of restoring us to Oneness, then we are no longer Jacob, spirituality clinging to the heel of materiality, but Israel, raised by the perception of Wholeness as the Essence of materiality, to awareness of our own Wholeness, our own Oneness.

Gd gives Israel a vision in the night, yet he calls to him “Jacob, Jacob,” —though Gd may refer to us in our limited aspect it is to wake us up to our Unlimitedness.

Gd tells him not to be afraid of going to Egypt because Gd will protect him, make him a great nation, take him into Egypt and raise him from there. suggests that Jacob and Israel refer to qualities of the human being: as Jacob we are innocent, but toil; but as Israel we are children of God, and enjoy the tranquil, non-toiling relationship beyond struggle.

Loyalty (“Love thy neighbor as thyself”) is a means to reunification with the Jacob aspect of ourselves, the human servant aspect. “Offering” to Gd is a means to unfold more of the Israel aspect of ourselves, the divine aspect. Through love of our neighbors/family/all humans, we raise the toiling aspect of ourselves to the higher level of our self, non-toiling, delighting as children of God, delighting in the Oneness that is our Self, the Only Self, Pure Delight, Free from Toil.

Today, in Judaism, we give prayers instead of animals as our offerings.

Through love and prayer, love in our hearts and our action and prayer in our hearts and our words we reunite ourselves and all and rise to All-in-All, to One, Pure Love, Pure Joy, Pure Delight.

Baruch HaShem.