Parshah Summary – P’shat
Judah approaches (Vayigash) Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin, offering himself as a slave to the Egyptian ruler in Benjamin’s stead. Upon witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another, Joseph breaks down and reveals his identity to them. “I am Joseph,” he declares. “Is my father still alive?” The brothers are overcome by shame and remorse, but Joseph comforts them. “It was not you who sent me here,” he says to them, “it was all part of the Divine plan, to save us from famine.” The brothers rush back to Canaan with the news. Jacob comes to Egypt with his sons and their families—seventy souls in all—and is reunited with his beloved son after 22 years. On his way to Egypt he receives the Divine promise: “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again.” Joseph gathers the wealth of Egypt by selling food and seed during the famine. Pharaoh gives Jacob’s family the fertile region of Goshen to settle, and the children of Israel prosper in their Egyptian exile…
Torah of Awakening
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ אֲנִ֣י יוֹסֵ֔ף הַע֥וֹד אָבִ֖י חָ֑י
וְלֹֽא־יָכְל֤וּ אֶחָיו֙ לַעֲנ֣וֹת אֹת֔וֹ כִּ֥י נִבְהֲל֖וּ מִפָּנָֽיו׃
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”
But his brothers could not answer him, so dumbfounded were they on account of him.
- Bereisheet (Genesis) 45:3, Parshat Vayigash
A disciple asked Rabbi Yisakhar Baer of Radoshitz: “How are we to interpret the passage in the Talmud where Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai says to his son, בְּנִי, דַּי לָעוֹלָם אֲנִי וְאַתָּה – ‘My son, you and I are enough for the world.’” He replied, “In the Tosefta we read: ‘The meaning which underlies the creation of the world is that the creature says: You are our God, and the Holy Blessed One says, I Am the Divine.’ This ‘You’ and this ‘I’ are enough for the world.”
The radical teaching of this story is that God, and the recognition of God, is enough. What does this mean? What tendency do we have that this teaching comes to counter?
And what does it mean to think that God is not enough?
It means to place special importance not the underlying Reality of Being, but on finite form; particularly, the finite form of identity. Names and roles become central; “You” and “I” are forgotten. Nowadays, it is rare to believe that that “God is enough.” Rather, belief in the central importance of identity is often taken for granted. Much of our “cultural war” issues are based on identity, not to mention the pervasive tendency for today’s actual war to expand into social conflicts of left vs. right, as well as increasing antisemitic and anti-Muslim violence.
And yet, even though there is rarely conversation about the transcending of identity, as individuals we take breaks from our identities all the time, though usually unconsciously. A moment of appreciation, of empathy, of gratitude – a genuine smile in which the “light” behind the identity shines forth – these are not uncommon; they are part of the natural rhythm between assuming roles and being authentic. But too often we can become trapped by identity, unconsciously bearing its burden of conflict and misery.
The question is: can we become free? Can we learn to put aside identity on purpose? Can we discover who we are at a level deeper than identity? And in that discovery, can we come to recognize our authentic beingness that transcends words and labels: the light of consciousness that we are beneath it all? After all, while living in a house is a wonderful thing, if we could never leave our house, it would no longer be a house; it would be a prison. Similarly, identity is not a bad thing, but we should not be trapped by it.
But how do we get beneath identity, to our deeper light of consciousness, to our authentic beingness? The truth is, we don’t have to “get” to It – all we need do is stop and turn toward It. בְּנִי, דַּי לָעוֹלָם אֲנִי וְאַתָּה – ‘My son, you and I are enough for the world/the Eternal.’” The mind constantly generates this whole noisy drama of life, but there is a Center. The Center is vast silence, and that Center is none other than our own beingness, which is not separate from the One Being.
But also, we shouldn’t think that the noisy drama and the vast, silent Center are two different things. Rather, all the movement of our life drama is nothing but the Vastness, dressed up in different costumes. We need not turn away from life, we need only to turn more completely toward it. Beneath the costume, the Divine is whispering to us…
אֲנִ֣י יֹוסֵ֔ף – I am Joseph! The name Yosef (Joseph) means “increase,” so on the deepest level, this is the Divine message to us: whatever we are relating with in the moment, its deepest identity is the Mystery from which all emerges. Things are not merely their surface appearance; potential is infinite… גְּשׁוּ־נָ֥א אֵלַ֖י – Approach me please! In other words, don’t be fooled by the masks – come to the Heart, come to the vast and silent Center behind all the actors playing out the drama. That Vastness is home, that Vastness is peace, that Vastness is the Divine, and it was Here all along. But this realization of the Center is not the end of the drama – not at all! Because once we’ve tasted the Real Thing, we want more – we want to stay there. We want It all the time. But, life pulls us back into its chaos again and again – what to do?
אַל־תִּירָא֙ מֵֽרְדָ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יְמָה כִּֽי־לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל אֲשִֽׂימְךָ֥ שָֽׁם – Don’t be afraid of descending into Egypt, because I will make you into a great nation there… Egypt is Mitzrayim – narrowness, constriction. God’s words to Jacob mean: don’t be afraid to get pulled back into a constricted state, because it is through your descent that your ascent will become more mature and stable. You can only grow spiritually through the learning that comes through failure.
אָֽנֹכִ֗י אֵרֵ֤ד עִמְּךָ֙ מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וְאָֽנֹכִ֖י אַֽעַלְךָ֣ – I will descend with you into Egypt and I will surely cause you to ascend… Even in the depths of separation, there is nothing but the Divine, so the power to return is always inherent within every experience, no matter how far you seem to fall.
וְיוֹסֵ֕ף יָשִׁ֥ית יָד֖וֹ עַל־עֵינֶֽיךָ – and Joseph will place his hand on your eyes… The eyes are a symbol for awareness. As we’ve seen, Yosef means “increase,” and the hand is a symbol of action: It is through your descent and subsequent ascent that you will gain the power to increase your own awareness, to be free from the tremendous pull of Mitzrayim, to awaken out of the seduction of life’s noisy dramas…
אָמ֣וּתָה – Amutah – I will die… This is a kind of “death” of identity, of our role-based egos. The “me” that is dependent on the Mitzrayim of life’s dramas can die, because…
רְאוֹתִ֣י אֶת־פָּנֶ֔יךָ כִּ֥י עֽוֹדְךָ֖ חָֽי – I have seen Your Face, that it lives forever! Every form we encounter is the Nothing but the Face of the Living, Eternal Presence. This recognition is represented by the sefirah of Malkhut, the Living Presence behind all things…
Read past teachings on Vayigash HERE.
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