Parshat Vayigash Dvar Torah
By Stephen Kirschenbaum
The first three words of Parshas Vayigash is about facing oneself and confronting oneself. Most of us like to work on the outside. As the Pasuk in Devarim says, Rav lachem sov hahar hazeh, enough going around the outside of the mountain; head tzafonah, which implies the hidden part of a person. We like to work around ourselves, to go around the mountain. The 4th Lubavitcher Rebbe used to say, ideally, we have to take it head on, directly. The Kotzker Rebbe explains, what’s Vayigash Eilav Yehuda? Pashut pshat Yehuda approaches Yosef, but Midrashim say that he says I am going to kill you. I’m a big strong person and lets out a roar that is heard around the world; he stands up to Yosef. However, the Kotzker comments that the word ‘Eilav’ is extraneous. The Pasuk could have just said Vayigash Yehuda, Yehuda stepped up. What does it mean Yehuda stepped up ‘to him’? The Kotzker explains ‘Eilav’ refers to himself. There comes a point in every Yehuda’s life, or every Yehudi’s life, where he has to step up to himself and figure out what am I, who am I? What am I supposed to do in this world? In Vayeshev, when Yosef is looking for his brothers in the field, and he meets the Ish, the man, who according to the Medrash is Gavriel, who says to Yosef, what are you Mevakesh? It’s not just a question this Malach is asking Yosef. It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves every day of our lives. Mah Atah Mevakesh? What are you doing with your life? What are your goals? How do you spend your time? That’s Vayigash Eilav Yehuda. To confront yourself in a very real way.
When Moshe leaves Pharoh’s palace and he’s looking at Klal Yisrael being beaten and whipped by the Mitzrim, the Chumash says ‘Vayifen Koh Vachoh, Vayare Ki Ain Ish,’ there’s no one around so he kills the Mitzri. On a deeper level, sometimes a Jew goes out and he looks this way and that way, looks at himself, and sees there is no Ish, there’s nothing there. What am I; who am I? Moshe was raised in Pharoh’s palace. The Medrash in Koheles says he was like Pharoh’s grandson. On the other hand, he goes out and identifies so deeply with Klal Yisrael. He looked at himself and he sees there’s no Ish, there’s no one here. What am I? How do I define myself? Vayigash Eilav Yehuda, to confront oneself in very a real way. What are the goals and aspirations in my life and how do I get there?
One of the earliest Sefarim to deal with this notion of Cheshbon HaNefesh is the Chovos Halevavos, which devotes an entire section dedicated to Chashbon HaNefesh. He enumerates 30 areas where a person can make a Cheshbon HaNefesh. The first one he discusses is regarding our body, that we should think deeply as to how complex the human body is. This will cause us to be so indebted to HKBH. He says when a person makes effort to analyze himself from a Torah perspective and an Olam perspective, meaning things that are not directly related to his Avodas Hashem, everything that I am doing, am I doing it to connect to HKBH? Are my body and Seichel fulfilling my responsibilities; what’s expected of me? As the Pasuk says ‘VeYadaata Hayom Ve’hashaivosa El Levavecha,’ not just telling us to do Teshuva, but it’s almost as if it’s a Mitzvah to do a proper Cheshbon HaNefesh. Says the Chovos HaLevavos, the goal is that a person should get to the point where he’s making a constant Cheshbon, constantly reevaluating himself. To live with an awareness that every moment, I have responsibilities in this world. To live with an awareness that with every breath a person takes in this world, G-d is there. Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid. To get to a point to at least recognize that every second is precious and valuable.
The Baal HaTanya adds another dimension to this idea of Vayigash Eilav Yehuda. The Chumash says Lech Lecha El Haaretz Asher Arecha, go to the land I will show you. The simple interpretation is I will show you the land. On a deeper level, says the Baal HaTanya, G-d is saying to Avraham, Sham Ereh Lecha Mi Atah, I will show you who you are. Certainly, Eretz Yisrael is a place where a person gains a certain level of clarity. This is what Avraham is being promised. I will show you to yourself; I will introduce you to yourself. If we want to make a Cheshbon HaNefesh, we must define our values and what’s important. Says Rav Hutner, if you want to understand how to evaluate a person, how to determine if a person is living a real life, make a proper Cheshbon HaNefesh. He quotes Rabbainu Yonah who says on the Pasuk in Mishlei, how do you define a man? ‘Ish lefi Mahalo,’ meaning, what do ppl say about him. What is his praise, Mahalo? If everyone says he’s a great guy, chances are he is and he isn’t faking it. But Rabbainu Yonah flips it on his head. How do you define a person? By what he looks up to; what are his values; what excites him. What’s Chashuv to him and where does he focus his efforts. This is one of the big pieces in fulfilling the words of the Kotzker. Vayigash Elilav Yehuda, to see and make a real Chaeshbon HaNefesh. What are our values; what gets us excited. If we’re more excited about things that should be secondary to us, perhaps we need to reevaluate.