Lessons from Vayigash in Times of Conflict

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

War’s dark echo hangs heavy across Israel, casting long shadows over our hearts and dimming the horizon. Fear threatens to overwhelm, and the path ahead feels uncertain. Yet the opening Pasuk of this week’s Parsha, Vayigash, whispers a vital lesson in these times of hardship. When uncertainty and fear grip our hearts, as war rages and antisemitism casts a long shadow, finding the light can feel like an impossible task. Yet, Vayigash offers a beacon: through faith and gratitude, Emunah and Hakarat Hatov, we can illuminate the darkness.

The verse says, “ויגש אליו יהודה,” which translates to “And Yehudah approached him.” Traditionally, we understand this as Yehudah approaching Yosef.. However Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Sfas Emes תרלא)  delves deeper, suggesting that “אליו” (towards him) can also refer to Hashem, implying Yehudah approaching the Divine.

Further, Rabbi Alter notes that Yehudah’s name embodies “giving thanks” (הודאה). Thus, the Posuk could be reinterpreted as: “He approached Hashem to give thanks.” 

שפת אמת, בראשית, ויגש א׳:ג׳ 

(ג) ויגש אליו יהודה. מלשון הודאה והוא כל איש ישראל. שמעתי מאא”ז מו”ר זצלה”ה שנקראו יהודים על שם שמודין להשי”ת על כל דבר קטן וגדול שיודעין שהכל ממנו ית’ כו’. ועי”ז יכולין ליגש. וזה עצה בכל שעה צר והסתרת פנים לכל איש ישראל. העצה להתבטל לרצון השי”ת ע”י שמברר האדם אצלו שגם בתוך ההסתר יש חיות מרצון השי”ת. וזהו ויגש אליו להשי”ת.

Imagine this: before launching into his impassioned plea for Binyamin, Yehudah pauses. He recognizes that everything comes from Hashem. With profound faith and gratitude, Emunah and Hakarat Hatov, he whispers, “Thank you, Hashem. Thank you for all. I don’t understand why this is happening, but hakol l’tova, and thank You!” Only then, after this silent dialogue of gratitude, Hakarat Hatov, does he turn to Yosef with “ויאמר בי אדני” and begin his speech.

This act of approaching Hashem through gratitude, Hakarat Hatov, as Rabbi Alter suggests, embodies both faith and a powerful tool to illuminate darkness in times of hardship.

The past eight weeks have been a testament to this. While we often turn to prayer in crisis, how often do we express Hakarat Hatov in victory? Even amid war and shadows, light persists. Soldiers courageously defend our freedoms, everyday acts of kindness illuminate our lives, and miracles unfold – hostages rescued, families reunited, battles won against the odds.

The grind of war should also sharpen our vision for the gifts in our personal lives – health, peace of mind, the safety of distance from the frontlines. We owe profound Hakarat Hatov not only to Hashem but also to our fellow men – the brave soldiers risking their lives while we watch from safer shores.

Perhaps, then, we can start by training ourselves to say thank you to those around us, for even small acts of kindness – a smile, a warm word, a helping hand. When we seek out daily miracles, we find beams of hope and courage to continue our difficult journey.

This Hakarat Hatov is the key to unity. Just as Yosef’s family reunited in Vayigash, let us bridge our own divisions and strengthen our achdus. Let’s thank Hashem for our blessings, cherish what we have, and work together to support those most affected by the war.

As we commemorate Asara b’Tevet, the Yom Hakadish Haklali, a day of Kaddish for those who perished in the darkness of the Holocaust, we are overwhelmed by the world’s continued silence in the face of calls for our genocide. Yet, let us draw strength from the message of unity in Vayigash. Let us thank Hashem for the blessings we share, cherish the bonds that connect us, and work together to heal the divisions within our communities. As brothers, we can pray:

[For] our brethren, the entire House of Israel who [still] remain in distress and captivity, whether on sea or on land, may Hashem have compassion on them, and bring them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from servitude to redemption, at this moment, speedily, very soon; and let us say Amein.

אַחֵֽינוּ כָּל בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל הַנְּ֒תוּנִים בַּצָּרָה וּבַשִּׁבְיָה הָעוֹמְ֒דִים בֵּין בַּיָּם וּבֵין בַּיַּבָּשָׁה הַמָּקוֹם יְרַחֵם עֲלֵיהֶם וְיוֹצִיאֵם מִצָּרָה לִרְ֒וָחָה וּמֵאֲפֵלָה לְאוֹרָה וּמִשִּׁעְבּוּד לִגְ֒אֻלָּה הַשְׁתָּא בַּעֲגָלָא וּבִזְמַן קָרִיב וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן:

Just as Yosef’s family reunited in Vayigash, let us bridge our own divisions and strengthen our achdus. Let’s thank Hashem for our blessings, cherish what we have, and work together to support those most affected by the war, all while being guided by the principles of gratitude-Hakarat Hatov and unity.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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