Vayigash – The Trap of Emotions

In this week’s Torah portion of Vayigash, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers in Egypt, after which he sends for his family to live with him.In response, Yaakov sends Yehuda on ahead of the family, to work with Yosef on setting up a Yeshiva and a place for the family to live in Goshen.
There is a fascinating Medrish Tanchuma (Parshas Vayigash, paragraph 9) which the Etz Yosef says describes why Yaakov picked Yehuda out of all the brothers, particularly given that Reuvain was the firstborn. “And Yehuda was sent before him to Yosef to take charge before he comes to Goshen and they came to the land of Goshen” (Breishis 46:28). On this the medrish says: “This was the intent of the verse in Yeshaya: ‘And the jealousy of Ephraim was removed’  (11:13). Our forefather Yaakov thought that Yehuda had killed Yosef when his special  coat was brought to him, as it says: ‘And he recognized it and he said, this is my son’s coat a wild animal has devoured him’ (Breishis 36:33). The wild animal refers to Yehuda, as it says: ‘Yehuda is a lion cub’ (Breishis 49:9). Yaakov thought about telling Yehuda that he was the one who killed him.Therefore Yaakov tore his garments…All the years that Yosef was away from his father, Yaakov felt in his heart that Yehuda had killed him. How do we know this? From Binyamin, for this is what Yehuda said to Yosef: ‘for your servant has guaranteed the safety of this lad.’[ First,]  he was willing to risk his life for Binyamin, and [second] it was discovered that Yosef was alive, and Yehuda was cleansed of any guilt. This is the application of the verse: ‘And the jealousy of Ephraim was removed,’ and therefore: ‘And Yehuda was sent before him.’” (Click here for Hebrew text.)As mentioned earlier, the Etz Yosef observes: “The medrish is giving another reason why Yehuda was sent in front of the family, and not Reuvain, who was the firstborn, or any other brother. And it is saying that because it was removed from his (Yaakov’s) heart the jealousy that he had for thinking that he (Yehuda) killed Yosef and now that he saw he was suspicious of him for naught he wanted to honor him to the opposite extreme by appointing him as the go between, between Yosef and the family which made him most honorable amongst the brothers…” (See also Brieshis Rabba 95:2 with the Maharz”u.)

In summary, we see that Yaakov had hatred and jealousy towards Yehuda as he thought he had killed Yosef. Only once Yehuda demonstrated that he was willing to risk his life for Binyamin, and Yosef was found to be alive, was Yehuda completely exonerated in Yaakov’s eyes.

We must say that this feeling of hatred and jealousy was on a very minute level, albeit had some kind of effect on him, for Hashem’s presence left him all the years that Yosef was away; “And he saw the wagons Yosef sent to carry him and Yaakov, their father’s spirit was rejuvenated” (Breishis 45:27). Rashi says on that pasuk that the Holy Presence rested upon him, which had previously left him( see Medrish Tanchuma , parshas Vayeshev,  paragraph 2). We cannot, however assume that this hatred and jealousy had any other further effect than to rid Yaakov of prophesy through Hashem’s presence. This is because, first off,  he is our forefather, one of the greatest human beings in the history of mankind and there is no indication anywhere that he had left this lofty status. Secondly, Yehuda was his son and there is a natural love from father to son, no matter how badly the son acts; especially if there is no concrete evidence of his wayward deeds. Third, we don’t find anywhere that this hatred manifested itself in the slightest bit outwardly towards Yehuda. He was never excommunicated by his father and, in fact, Yaakov never even said anything to him, and quite the opposite – he even entrusted him with Yosef’s brother Binyamin’s life when they went down to Egypt. It must be that this hatred was on a very miniscule level!

However, there are two blatant questions that can be asked on this Medrish:
(1) What was the jealousy that the Etz Yosef says Yaakov had? Normally we define jealousy as wanting something that someone else has; but that wasn’t  the case between Yaakov and Yehuda.
(2) Why did Yaakov need two things to absolve Yehuda of any guilt? Once he found out Yosef was alive,  no further proof is necessary! Yet it sounds as if  had Yehuda not been willing to risk his life for the sake of Binyamin, he would not have been found completely innocent in the eyes of Yaakov.

The Orchos Tzadikim in the chapter on jealousy gives an insight into the emotion of jealousy. “Jealousy stems from deficiency of the soul. If one is jealous of another’s handsome looks or strength, or wealth, then he does not desire what the Blessed Creator decreed… The one who is jealous robs himself for he is always downcast, his intellect is depleted because of the great jealousy buried within him, and his heart is not free to study and pray with proper concentration and to do good deeds.” (Click here, here and here for Hebrew text.)

The source of classical jealousy sounds like something that could be applied to Yaakov, and certainly the ramifications of this negative character trait can be seen in Yaakov, albeit on his own high level. It would seem that wanting what someone else has is only a manifestation of the feeling of jealousy; the root cause of jealousy lies in the feeling of not being satisfied with the lot Hashem gives you. We can therefore say that, on a very infinitesimal level, Yaakov must have been dissatisfied with what he thought Hashem decreed upon him, which he blamed on Yehuda, and the result was not that his prayers, Torah learning, and mitzvos [good deeds] were effected.  Rather for him, at the spiritual level that he resided, he lost the opportunity of receiving prophesy and the Holy Presence resting on him.

We see from this medrish that one can feel an emotion without it manifesting itself, but the root of the emotion is its essence, and this essence can still have devastating results.

It would also seem that the emotions of hatred and jealousy were engrained so deeply within Yaakov that he would not have been able to view Yehuda as completely innocent  upon the revelation that Yosef was still alive unless Yehuda was able to show that he was completely pure, which he did by risking his life for Binyamin.

It is possible for even a person as lofty as Yaakov Avinu to have  emotions so entrenched inside him that he can’t simply  detach himself from it, even when he knows without a fraction of a doubt that the feelings are a mistake. It might even take required steps on the part of the other party to help one get rid of his character flaw. This is how delicate emotions are in each and every one of us.

Leave a Reply