In the world of Ancient Egypt the will of the ruler was supreme and deadly. One would be taking a great risk to confront and disagree with the whims and dictates of any ruler. Yet we read that Judah gathered that strength and moved into the line of fire.
“Then Yehuda (Judah) approached ( VaYigash) unto him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant; for thou art even as Pharaoh”.( Genesis :18).
What in fact empowered him and what lessons could be gleaned from that stepping into courage.
The use of the word VaYigash ( he approached) is instructive.
We see its use when Abraham is told of G-d’s plan to destroy Sodom. Abraham attempts to sway G-d away from His intentions. “Abraham approached (VaYigash) and said: Will You sweep away the righteous with the wicked? . . . Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” (Gen. 18: 23-25).
We see its use as well when Elijah is involved in a confrontation with the priests of Baal. When these priests spend hours crying out and praying to their idol with no result we read “Elijah stepped forward (VaYigash) and prayed: O Lord, G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are G-d in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.” (I Kings 18)
Rashi adds two other examples as well. In the first example we see that VaYigash represents an approach into battle “So Joab approached ( Vayigash) with the people that were with him unto battle.” (II Samuel 10:13). The second is an approach of conciliation “Then the children of Judah approached ( VaYigshu) Joshua.” (Joshua 14:6).
Therefore we see a “standing of loving kindness”, spiritual courage, readiness for war, and conciliation, all defined by the word VaYigash. Rashi teaches that from this we are to understand that Judah approached Joseph ready for all possibilities (he cites three such approaches).
Yet we musty explore what is the connecting link that binds all these possibilities to the word VaYigash (to approach).
G-d created a universe wherein choice determines the path through which destiny travels. In fact Jewish theology has declared that one of the greatest gifts G-d has given mankind is the power to choose.
“And now, Israel, what does Hashem your G-d ask of you, but to fear Hashem your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Hashem your G-d, with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 10:12).
The verb to “ask” pre-supposes the possibility of choice.
Furthermore He says “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, [that] I have set before you, life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:” (Deuteronomy 30:19 ).
This verse reiterates that although the choice is free, every decision comes with implications. It is that determined decision to make the right choice that changes history.
Moshe ( Moses) escapes to Midian and he is not heard from for over sixty years. Yet at the age of eighty he confronts the mystery of the burning bush on Horev, the mountain of G-d. Moshe then declares, “I will turn aside now and look at this great sight, why will the bush not be burned.” (Exodus 3:3)
That “turning aside” and approaching the burning bush was a critical step as we read in the following verse. “Hashem saw that Moshe turned from his path to see the sight and He called out to him from amidst the bush.” (ibid 3:4). That is to say had Moshe not decided to “approach” this phenomenon then G-d would not have spoken to him. The Midrash Tanchuma describes G-d as saying, “You made the effort to investigate and see; I declare you are worthy of my revealing Myself to you.”
This was the decision placed before Abraham, Joab, and the children of Judah. They needed to gather the strength “to approach” and step into the path of destiny. This was the courage that was demanded of Judah at this critical point as well. That quality would bring Jacob to say of Judah “He crouched, rested like a lion, and like a lion, who will rouse him?”(Genesis 49:9).
As we enter the winter days of darkness and confusion we have been gifted with the lights of the Chanukah menorah to help light our way. The political future seems unclear and the security situation seems foreboding. As a result we all will face great choices and momentous decisions in our personal and national lives. May we be gifted with the strength of faith to “approach” and step into the path destined for us as a people and as individuals. By so doing we will be part of the unveiling of the path decreed for us all.
LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved