Years earlier, they sold him into slavery out of jealousy and lied to their father that he was killed by a wild animal. Now Joseph has become a ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, and the brothers have come before him to beg for food, because there was a great famine in the land. They don’t even recognize him, and Joseph has been toying with them, threatening to take their youngest brother, Benjamin, as a slave.
Judah steps forward to plead with Joseph:
"Bi adoni y’daber na avdekha… Please my lord, let your servant speak…”
The Hebrew wording in Judah’s plea with Joseph has an unusual idiom. “Bi” means “in me” so a literal translation could be, “In me, my lord, let your servant please speak…”
Or, put more clearly, “May my inwardness speak…”
In other words, Judah is about to become vulnerable and express what’s going on inside him. Now if Judah represents inwardness and authenticity, Joseph represents externality and superficiality. After all, Joseph is a political leader. For Judah and his brothers, Joseph seems to be a foreigner, something alien. And, most importantly, Joseph is hiding his true identity from them.
So in a sense, Judah’s approaching Joseph is a metaphor for how we can approach this moment. Right now, we’re confronted with all kinds of external things- objects, sensations, reactions, feelings, thoughts, all making up the tapestry that is your present situation. How do you connect deeply with the beings around you, and even more, how do you connect with the underlying Divine Presence that glows softly within everyone and everything?
Judah shows us how with three special qualities- humility, honesty and sacrifice.
First, he approaches with humility, as he says to Joseph,
“Please my lord, let your servant speak…”
Humility is the opposite of coming in with a lot of judgments and ego. With judgments and ego, you’ve already sabotaged any potential for connection before you even begin the conversation. So if you want to connect, leave that at the door.
Second, he approaches with honesty. When Joseph tells Judah that their brother Benjamin must remain in Egypt as his slave to answer for his trumped up charges, Judah says,
“How will I go up to my father if the boy isn’t with me? Don’t let me see the misery that will befall my father!”
Judah brings his true concerns and fears- he is vulnerable. In the same way, whatever is really going on inside you, don’t resist it, draw close to it. This doesn’t mean you necessarily go around announcing to everyone what you’re feeling, it just means connecting with the truth of your own experience in the moment. It means not resisting anything inside you. Open to your experience.
Lastly, he approaches with sacrifice. He says:
“Please let me stay instead of the boy as a slave to my lord, and let the boy go up with his brothers.”
On one hand, your motivation to practice Presence has to come from the depths of your own desire. But then, it needs to go beyond that and offered for the sake of others. Don’t practice merely for your own experience, but to better serve everyone you connect with.
Because then, the externality of Joseph will break down. As it says,
“Joseph couldn’t bear all those standing beside him, so he called out, ‘Take everyone away from me!’ And he wept out loud, and said to his brothers, ‘Ani Yosef- I am Joseph!’”
The name Yosef actually means to increase. In the same way, when you approach this moment with humility, honesty and generosity, the appearance of the world increases beyond its external appearance, revealing itself as the practice space for the spirit, every situation perfectly calibrated to help you awaken more deeply, if you choose to engage with it.
So on this Shabbat Vayigash, the Sabbath of Approaching, may we approach this moment with the three middot of Presence- humility, honesty and generosity, and may everything we approach, even that which appears foreign or alienating at first, open to us as yet another unique portal to the Divine Presence.