Recognizing the “Lost” Son

Parashat Vayigash (And He Approached)
Beresheet (Genesis) 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28

In Romans 11, Rav Sha’ul (the apostle Paul) writes that God allowed a partial hardening of the hearts of the people of Israel so that salvation could also be offered to the Gentiles until the moment that Israel collectively recognizes the “lost” son: 

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! But by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their wrongdoing proves to be riches for the world, and their failure, riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
Romans 11:11-12

For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written:The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” Romans 11:25-27

These powerful words echo what is written in both the Parashah and Haftarah portions this week.

Our Parashah opens with the description of how Judah stood in his promise to Jacob to protect Benjamin, their baby brother, from harm. We see him make this promise in Genesis 43:9:

I myself will take responsibility for him! You may demand him back from me. If I do not bring him back to you and present him to you, then you can let me take the blame forever.

As we learn in Genesis 44:1-17, Joseph deceived his brothers by instructing the overseer of his house to put the silver goblet in Benjamin's sack. Then, Joseph sends his overseer to catch the brothers and demand that the one who “stole” the silver goblet would become his slave. In a moving display, Judah offers himself as a replacement for Benjamin, his youngest brother (Genesis 44:33). Judah takes full responsibility for the promise he made to his father to protect Benjamin and is willing to sacrifice himself to not cause any further agony to his father. Clearly, this is not the same Judah from Genesis 37 who sold his brother, Joseph, into slavery! Judah's actions move Joseph so deeply, that he dramatically reveals his identity to his brothers.  

There are two key moments in that story which I believe are important to note. The first is Joseph’s acknowledgment that it was God who sent him to suffer for a greater purpose, and that he did not blame his brothers:

So God sent me ahead of you to ensure for you a remnant on the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.
Genesis 45:7

The second is the fact that Jacob’s spirit was revived when he heard that Joseph was still alive:

When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, then the spirit of their father Jacob revived.
Genesis 45:27

I believe those two moments of revelation and reconciliation point us to a future moment that our Haftarah explains about, when God Himself will bring the sons of Israel together under one Shepherd and King. Just as with Joseph’s story, it will be God Himself that will do the work in order for no man to take credit, and just like Jacob’s spirit was revived, so will once again Jacob’s (Israel) spirit will be revived by the work of redemption and deliverance of the LORD:

The word of the LORD came again to me, saying, “Now you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ Then put them together for yourself one to another into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand. And when the sons of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?’ say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: “Behold, I am going to take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. And say to them, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: “Behold, I am going to take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their offenses; but I will rescue them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.” “And My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances, and keep My statutes and follow them. And they will live on the land that I gave to My servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and My servant David will be their leader forever. And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be among them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”
Ezekiel 37:15-28

How I look forward to the complete fulfillment of these words! While we have seen a partial fulfillment of the regathering of the children of Israel back to His land, we still are longing for the day when He will dwell among us forever! Will you join me in praying that we ready ourselves with His Spirit for these days ahead? May His coming be swift and soon…

Shabbat Shalom,

Check out previous blogs on this parashah!

Did you know? — Lone Soldier

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One Comment on “Recognizing the “Lost” Son”

  1. Thank you for this. One thing that spoke to me was the following:

    “The first is Joseph’s acknowledgment that it was God who sent him to suffer for a greater purpose, and that he did not blame his brothers” and the similarity to Yeshua being sent to suffer and His prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” regarding His brothers.

    And I have to ask if I am willing to suffer too. The suffering is here, in a different way, but will God use it for a greater purpose, and can I forgive those who have caused, and are causing, the suffering?

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