Parshat Vayigash: The Best of Two Worlds

December 10, 2021
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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There is an ideological war being waged over the internet. No, it’s not between contemporary geopolitical superpowers or intellectual heavyweights. The belligerents in this war are influencers – they’re lifestyle gurus flooding our Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter feeds; they’re self-help know-it-alls on podcasts and talk shows trying to sell their brand. Further, they’re divided squarely into two camps:

First, the toxic, get-tough heroes. These folks thrive on making their audiences feel insufficient. Bragging about their 4:00 AM wakeups, small business(es??), and rigorous fitness regimens, they preach productivity. What’s the secret to success? Work harder (they claim). The no-frills, push-yourself attitude is frighteningly motivating. Personally, it’s moved me to get off my you-know-what on many occasions. That being said, detractors assert that it’s utterly toxic. Frankly, we humans are not wired to work 24/7. It’s cruel to our bodies and unkind to our minds.

By contrast, we have spiritual saviors. These whipped-coffee wizards have a solution (often in aesthetically pleasing infographic form) for everything! Struggling? Just meditate! Overwhelmed? Just take a break! Don’t get me wrong – mental health and self-care are of the utmost importance. We have to prioritize keeping ourselves happy and healthy. These influencers’ detractors aptly point out that improving lives isn’t the primary aim here, however. For example, why do these influencers have a straightforward answer (and product) for everything? Or, for instance, when is the calming, “it’ll all work out in the end!” attitude simply insufficient? Although rest and compassion are always worth prioritizing, there’s something about the incessant reminders from influencers (or my mother) about getting my work done that are shockingly effective.

Unfortunately, I easily fall prey to both influencer camps. Therefore, my self-care cultivating and productivity pursuing strategies swing between these two camps like a pendulum. One week I’ll prioritize face-masks, journaling, and a strict 10:00 PM lights-out policy, while the next I’ll make time for 6:00 AM runs with 1:00 AM cram sessions. So as a Jewish person in need of wisdom, I naturally turned toward the Torah.

As is often the case, a virtuous means is the best solution. This week’s portion shows Joseph striking a virtuous tone between playing with the hand you’ve been dealt, sans complaints, and processing emotions in a healthy way. In Parshat Vayigash, Joseph’s brothers come down from Canaan in desperation: famine has struck, and they’ll do anything for food and seeds. Joseph’s now-famous dream telling abilities allowed Egypt to prepare for the famine beforehand,  making Joseph exceptionally powerful – he’s the only one who can help them.

One caveat: Joseph’s brothers haven’t seen him since they sold him into slavery and they think he’s dead. Joseph uses these facts to his advantage for quite some time, perhaps enacting his revenge until ultimately giving in. And when he does reveal the truth, it’s beautiful, as the Torah describes:

“Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, “Take everyone away from me!” So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept out loud, so the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. [...] Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me,” and they drew closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. But now do not be sad, [...] you did not send me here, but God, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt.”  (Genesis 45:1-8)

Joseph subscribes to both sides of our modern ideological war here. On the one hand, he orders his servants away and cries. He takes a break from working and takes comfort in the support of his family. On the other, he handles his trauma in stride, seemingly grateful for the tortuous experience he went through as a kid.

As we welcome in Global Shabbat this week, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Hand in Hand. Although we often discuss the theme through the lens of community, I wonder what it tells us about ourselves. Vayigash teaches us that there’s no shame in holding our own hands – Joseph understood when it was time to cry. But the portion also teaches us to give ourselves a high five and a pat on the back; it teaches us to pick ourselves up and keep moving as Joseph did. Joseph teaches us that there’s always a middle ground, a virtuous mean. As we move into one of the more stressful times of the year, aim for that mean, and may you be happy, healthy, and successful.

Shabbat Shalom,

33rd Grand Aleph Shaliach, Danny Freedman, NRE Baltimore Council

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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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