Parashat Vayigash – Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

By Rabbi Heidi Cohen

I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t sacrifice everything for their children. We don’t realize the impact children will have on our lives until they are first placed in our arms. We would do anything to ensure they are safe, cared for and given every opportunity to have a full and good life. Yet what is frustrating are the moments when we might become powerless.

Joseph’s brothers stand before him in Egypt, Benjamin being accused of stealing a silver goblet from the palace. The man who stands before them is their brother, yet he has not revealed himself as of yet. This “Egyptian official” threatens to imprison Benjamin and the rest of the brothers are free to return to their father, Jacob, in Canaan. Judah, the fourth brother in line, steps forward and speaks for his brother, Benjamin, and pleads on behalf of his father. He asks that this “Egyptian” take him in place of this younger brother, son of his father’s dead wife, Rachel. Jacob made them promise to bring Benjamin safely home and Judah knows that if they return without him, it will literally kill their father.

Judah is in the place to feel the pain of losing children. Judah lost two of his sons early in their adult lives, both married to Tamar. He knew all too well the pain of losing children and did not want his father to endure this again, for Jacob already believed he lost Joseph years earlier.

Judah therefore makes the ultimate sacrifice and tells this ruler in Egypt, whom they do not yet know is Joseph, that he cannot let his father endure the pain of losing yet another child. Judah’s compassion for his father was so great especially as he was able to empathize with him in such a personal manner.

Yes, parents have buried their children and the pain seems too great to comprehend let alone survive. Some pour their energy into sharing their children’s story and others do all they can just to get out of bed every day. I can’t even begin to understand the pain a parent feels when s/he must bury a child.  But the lesson I learn is that ultimately, nothing else matters but our families for it can all be taken away in an instant. While we pursue our own goals and dreams, we do so with our family at our side. We do so in hopes that these moments are such that we create memories to last a life time, and even the most stressful or chaotic will someday be fantastic stories to be shared with grand and great grandchildren.

Be it child, spouse, or friend, there are those moments in our lives when we would make the ultimate sacrifice so that they may live. We recognize and are aware that there seems to be an order to life. But when that order is disrupted, we pray that God provides strength. We pray that one should never feel alone, and that even in the most painful of moments, mourning can be turned into dancing. And we pray that every day, we remember what truly matters.


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