August 7, 2018

Bringing our family together in peace (Vayigash)

Following the dramatic moment when Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, he sends his brothers to collect Yaakov in order to bring him down to Egypt.  During this journey, ‘God spoke to Yisrael in visions of the night, and said: Yaakov! Yaakov! [And] he replied: Here I am’ (Bereishit 46:2). A sensitive reader will notice the parallels between this passage and Bereishit 22:11 (often referred to as the Akeidah) when Avraham – while holding the knife to slaughter his son Yitzchak – hears the call of an angel: ‘Avraham! Avraham!’ to which he replied ‘Here I am’. But what is the significance of the parallelism between these two passages?
According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, this moment captures the emotions of Yaakov as he journeys to see his long-lost son Yosef, and just like the call of the angel was a turning point in that story, this parallelism points to ‘the moment of revival at the climax of this Akeidah’.
Yet, as our Sages explain in a fascinating Midrash (Tanchuma Shemot 18), there is a deeper lesson being taught by the way in which both Avraham and Yaakov’s names are repeated, as the Midrash explains, ‘Rabbi Aba Bar Kahana said: “Whenever someone’s name is repeated, it teaches us that they are in two worlds”’, meaning that whenever we find someone’s name repeated in Tanach, it is an indication that – at this moment – this individual has made their mark both in this world and in the next world.
In fact, it is interesting to note the six examples in Tanach cited by the Midrash where we find such a repetition. The first occurs in Bereishit 6:9 where we are introduced to Noach and told about his righteousness. Then, we find Avraham’s name being repeated during the Akeidah story. Next is Yaakov whose name is repeated as he journeys to see his son Yosef. Then Moshe’s name is repeated (see Shemot 3:4) during his dialogue with God at the burning bush when he was charged with the responsibility to lead Bnei Yisrael. Then Shmuel’s name is repeated (see Shmuel I 3:10) as part a call from God that he was to receive a prophecy, and finally, Peretz’s name is repeated (see Ruth 4:18) while describing the generations between Peretz to Boaz to David.
Reflecting on this Midrash, I think we can learn a deep lesson about how to make our mark – both in this world, and the next. Firstly, one way to make our mark is to be righteous like Noach. A second way is through overcoming challenges and tests like Avraham. A third way is through leading others like Moshe. A fourth way is through becoming a religious guide like Shmuel, and a fifth way is through having famous descendants like Peretz.
Yet, there is also sixth way which emerges from the story of Yaaakov. When Yaakov’s name is repeated, he has just stopped off in Beersheva to offer sacrifices before continuing his journey to Egypt to reconnect with Yosef. Beersheva is the region where Avraham disconnected with his son Yishmael (see Bereishit 21:14), yet it is also where Avraham and Yitzchak journeyed to after the Akeidah (see Bereishit 22:19). Beersheva is thus a place with memories of disconnecting and reconnecting; a place which reminds us how families can be divided, and how families can be united, and though Yaakov thought that he had lost his son Yosef, he is now en-route to Egypt to be reunited with Yosef.
So when God calls ‘Yaakov! Yaakov!’, it is at this moment, and at this place, that Yaakov is reminded about how we can make our mark in this world and the next, which is by bringing our family together in peace.

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