Parshas Vayigash

December 21, 2012
8 Teves, 5773

Parshas Vayigash
Candle-lighting Time: 4:21 PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Brooklyn Pizza and David Lustig, for all his hard work making delicious pizza for the community.


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Top Billing

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

I got a chance to spend some quality time with my skis this Chanukah; a little time for reflection amidst the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and Arapahoe National Forest. I would tell you all about it, but judging from the outrageous traffic, you’ve seen it for yourselves.

In Parshas Vayigash, Jacob and his sons move down to Egypt from the Land of Canaan to join Joseph and survive the famine. When they arrive, Joseph instructs them to explain to Pharaoh that they are shepherds. That way he won’t offer them a job in the Egyptian Lotto office.

It wasn’t a subterfuge—they really were all shepherds. Jacobsen, Jacobsen, Jacobsen, Jacobsen,… and Jacobsen Shepherds, Inc. And so were our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not to mention Moses, David and many of our other illustrious ancestors.

What’s so special about shepherding that makes it the Chosen Profession of the Chosen People?

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno gives a few reasons. For one thing, being a shepherd frequently takes a person away from society where many human frailties and undesirable character traits are manifest. There the soul can be free from these negative influences. This is the reason I give my wife when I go skiing in the mountains.

And for another reason, shepherding is not an activity that requires intense concentration and the entirety of one’s focus. Sheep take care of themselves most of the time, and that left a lot of time for our ancestors to devote themselves to the elevation of their character, their connection with their Creator and the development of their spiritual selves. Such was the profession of choice of our forefathers, and such is their legacy—that their children structure their lives in such a way that their spiritual pursuits got top billing.

Eternal Tears

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

Yosef finally revealed his identity to his brothers and the mending process began. However, when Yosef met his brother Binyomin, they both began to cry. Were these emotional tears being shed because they had never seen each other? Rashi cites the Talmud that explains that they were crying due to the eventual destruction of the 2 Batei Hamikdash that would one day be in Jerusalem in the tribal lands of Binyomin, and the destruction of the Mishkan that dwelt for many years in the tribal lands of Yosef.

What is the meaning of our Sages’ explanation of their tears? Was there a benefit in crying now, many years before the destructions took place? Did this outpouring of anguish in anyway solve the problems that led to their destruction?

Rav Chaim of Volozhin, in his seminal work Nefesh HaChaim, explains what it means that Hashem sheds tears. Obviously Hashem doesn’t cry in the literal sense, but we are told that certain problems ‘bring Hashem to tears’. His understanding is that that expression conveys that Hashem’s attribute of justice is intervening and He is no longer implementing and utilizing His attribute of mercy. If this is the explanation of Yosef and Binyamin’s tears, it is difficult to understand why at this juncture they would be displaying an inclination toward strict justice when mercy would have been more apropos.

Possibly, the question, as is often the case, is precisely the answer. Although there are many reasons given as to why we lost the Beis Hamikdash, essentially it all boils down to a critical lack of understanding of our relationship with Hashem. Too often we take life’s blessings for granted and we begin to lose our perspective on the significance of life and the important issues that we should focus on. At that decisive moment, the subject becomes dominant when, on the contrary, the sovereignty of the omnipotent should maintain its dignity and splendor. Then the plummet to the abyss is assured although it may be slow in coming.

Yosef and Binyomin merited having the presence of Hashem in their tribal lands, either in the semblance of the Mishkan or the Beis Hamikdash. One might even venture to say that they were the keepers of those valued possessions of the Jewish nation. These manifestations of Hashem’s presence amongst us were entrusted to them to sustain and safeguard in its unending reality. Yet they were faced with the awesome awareness that these imperative edifices of our nation were imperiled and subject to eventual devastation. They reasoned that if they would intensely submit to Hashem’s will and show that they were prepared to bend in every way possible to fulfill Hashem’s decree; perhaps they could avert the eventual destruction of these Holy places.  Maybe their formidable attempt to subjugate themselves to Hashem’s stringent verdict would infuse in future generations such a passionate appreciation for the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash that they would elevate themselves and circumvent that which seemed inevitable. Alas, it was not meant to be and what the future held was indeed inescapable.

The question remains to be posed, why do we need to know about this incident? After all, it would appear that the tears that they shed were for naught since the Mishkan and the Batei Mikdash eventually were destroyed! Perhaps we can venture and propose that if they would not have cried then maybe those magnificent structures that ‘housed’ Hashem’s presence would not have lasted as long as they did. Perchance, we did gain somewhat from their sincere desire to bequeath us these magnificent treasures. One can never truly know, but we can undoubtedly endeavor to exert ourselves to the hilt to undertake to insure the ongoing security and permanence of our nation.

Question for the Rabbis
By Rabbi Mordechai Becher, reprinted with permission from

Rabbi Yehudah Hachasid (Sefer Hasidim 293) was asked if a Torah scholar who is engaged in continuous study of Torah, day and night, is obligated to pay his share of a tax levied upon the Jewish community by the king. He writes that the scholar should not be obligated to participate in the tax, and he cites the following from the Torah portion this week:  All the land in Egypt was sold to Pharaoh in exchange for food, “except for the land of the priests” (Genesis 47:22), which Joseph did not buy. Rabbi Yehudah says that the reason the Torah felt it necessary to tell us of this fact was to teach us that just as Joseph exempted the priests of Egypt from the communal burden, how much more so should a community exempt an eminent Torah scholar from the communal tax.

Joke of the Week

The Good News, Rabbi: The Board wants to send you on a vacation.
The Bad News: Next year…


When the brothers arrived in Egypt and the ruler (Yosef) treated them harshly, they were full of questions. However, when Yosef revealed his identity to them and said, “I am your brother Yosef,” everything became clear. So too, all doubts that we may have will be answered when God will one day come forth and redeem us from this exile exclaiming, “I am the Lord your God.”