Family Corner: Parshat Vayigash

Wednesday, December 8, 2021
Posted by: Family Corner

Family Corner is a space to offer interactive and thoughtful ideas for family engagement with the Parshat Hashavua (weekly Torah reading). 

This week in the Parsha we encounter themes of keeping your word, prayer when concern arises, unity (community), people can change, and always being open to learning. 

Parsha Summary

  • Judah pleads with Joseph to free Benjamin and offers himself as a replacement. (44:18-34) 
  • Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery. (45:1-15) 
  • Although the famine still rages, Pharaoh invites Joseph's family to "live off the fat of the land." (45:16-24) 
  • Jacob learns that Joseph is still alive and, with God's blessing, goes to Egypt. (45:25-46:33) 
  • Pharaoh permits Joseph's family to settle in Goshen. Pharaoh then meets with Jacob. (47:1-12) 
  • With the famine increasing, Joseph designs a plan for the Egyptians to trade their livestock and land for food. The Israelites thrive in Egypt. (47:13-27) 

Torah Thought

“In this parashah, Judah demonstrates a true change of character. Initially he was the brother who recommended selling Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:25–27) in order to rid the brothers of their father’s favorite son and make some money. Now faced with the possibility that Jacob’s second favorite son will be imprisoned, Judah selflessly offers to serve in Benjamin’s place. Judah seems to have grown in his capacity to love, empathize with his father’s pain, and act on others’ behalf regardless of the personal cost.” (Women of Reform Judaism) 

What caused this change in character? 

Naomi Steinberg notes that ““while not mentioned in this parashah, Tamar has been a pivotal figure in Judah’s own growth. Their encounter in Genesis 38 best accounts for Judah’s new capacity to sympathize with his father” 

Tamar is Judah’s daughter-in-law who he has relations with as he mistakes as a harlot. She purposely misled Judah, who after the death of his first two sons while being married to Tamar, refused to allow his third son to marry her.  

For the first time, he is confronted with the stark truth that he is acting in a selfish manner – only thinking about himself and his children. By not giving his third son to Tamar he was sentencing her a life of utter loneliness.  

Furthermore, as Rabbi Baruch Gigi points out: “Yehuda should have identified with Tamar's pain; after all, he himself was recently widowed. Since Yehuda too had lost his wife, he should have recognized the distress experienced by Tamar.” But he does not.  

With these words, “ לְאִישׁ֙ אֲשֶׁר־אֵ֣לֶּה לּ֔וֹ אָנֹכִ֖י הָרָ֑ה וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַכֶּר־נָ֔א לְמִ֞י הַחֹתֶ֧מֶת וְהַפְּתִילִ֛ים וְהַמַּטֶּ֖ה הָאֵֽלֶּה׃  

“I am with child by the man to whom these belong.” And she added, “Examine these: whose seal and cord and staff are these?” 

Tamar shows the very sensitivity that Yehuda lacked. She did not accuse him, rather, she orchestrates events so that Yehuda would come to admit - צָֽדְקָ֣ה מִמֶּ֔נִּ - “she is more righteous than I.” 

This story highlights Tamar’s role in Judah’s transformation. It also highlights the role minor or unnamed characters play in the bible which in turn can inspire a conversation on whether or not change agents need to be in the spotlight. (see here for more)  

It is also an opportunity to discuss the possibility of change. 

Activities, Videos, Crafts and More! 

Parshat Vayigash: Joseph's Family Reunion 

  • Create! Your own printable mask. Remove it when you are ready to reveal their true identity, just like Joseph! 

PJ Library Recommendation

The Donkey and The Garden by Devora Busheri
Akiva the shepherd is forty years old, and is still illiterate. In a creative way, his wife, Rachel, helps him overcome his embarrassment, and join a group of children as they learn to read and write.  

Devash (Published by Hadar): Devash is a weekly parashah magazine that makes learning Torah sweet. By engaging directly with texts and taking kids seriously as Jews, Devash helps children and grownups discover new ideas, values, and sweet morsels in the weekly Torah portion. Devash is designed for kids aged 7-11 to read independently, or together with families and teachers. 

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Category: Family Corner