Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

9 12 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Vayigash: Two Forms of Leadership

It is written, “Within a person’s heart there are very deep waters, and a wise person knows how to draw upon these waters.” Both the Zohar and the Midrash connect this verse to the confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda. The Midrash notes that the “wise person” refers to Yehuda, who knew how to draw the deep waters out of Yosef. The Zohar disagrees and writes that it was Yosef who drew the waters out of Yehuda. Both Yosef and Yehuda emphasized a different aspect of gadlut, which led to a resolution of the conflict between the brothers.


The Midrash quotes a verse in Navi, “Days will come when the plow will meet the harvest.” The plow refers to Yehuda, the heart of Israel, while the harvester signifies Yosef, the mind of Israel. Plowing the ground involves softening it for planting. This represents the tender, caring heart, which not only feels the pain of others, but can accept the light of Hashem. Yehuda symbolized emotion. He was the progenitor of King David, the epitome of the kind, feeling heart. Tehilim, his gift to us, is full of expressions of extraordinary closeness to Hashem.


In contrast, Yosef represents the reaper. Harvesting creates separation. For human intellect to be perfect it needs to be detached from emotion. When studying Torah, we must follow its logic where it takes us without letting emotions blind us. Yosef was the paragon realist. His iron logic kept him loyal to his brothers all through the long years as he waited for their moment of teshuva.


The Shem Mishmuel asks why Yehuda waited to make his impassioned plea until after Yosef expressed a desire to take Binyamin away.  Yehuda knew the prophecy that the Jews would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. When the brothers were caught, Yehuda thought they would now be punished in the worst possible way to atone for the sale of Yosef. However, when Yosef singled out Binyamin, he realized this must be the diabolical plan of an evil king, because Binyamin had not been involved in the sale. It was then that Yehuda offered himself as a slave.  When Yosef saw Yehuda’s display of emotion he had to reconcile.


Both mind and heart are fundamental expressions of serving Hashem, namely the intellectual endeavor of studying Torah and the emotional service of tefila and performing mitzvot.  Chazal tells us that the Jewish people are merciful, modest, and kind. Yet we are stiff necked people, tenacious in upholding the truth, and stubborn in our beliefs. How does one meld the seemingly contradictory qualities of softness of heart and azut d’kedusha, iron-tough Jewish commitment? We are all a combination of Yosef and Yehuda. The greatness of Torah living is knowing when to employ our kindness to help others, and when to activate our strength to preserve our identity.  May we travel the straight path of Torah with hearts full of faith.




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