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Vayigash: The Significance of Encounters to Fend off Loneliness as a Central Theme in this Week’s Torah Portion.

Encountering others can help us through tough times and loneliness is the lesson of this week’s Torah portion. We need to transform ourselves and our loved ones via coming close as did Joseph and his brothers. Rabbi Dr. Reb Mimi Feigelson takes us behind and into the dramatic scenes of Vayigash. 

One word and one phrase that I want us to think about today.

You know I like holding on to one word, and the word I like is right now:

Vayigash  ויגש

“and he approached” or “he encountered” or “he came close”

Look, I have one word but I have three different translations to it!

What happened in that moment when Judah approaches Joseph or the king, as he sees.

We have Vayigash again when Joseph summons his brothers to come towards him גשו נא אלי again that Vayigash that גשו.

We will see the third time in next week’s parasha when Joseph brings his sons to Jacob to be blessed and also he approaches them, he brings them close  ויגש.

It is actually interesting that the Targum there and the translation into Aramaic of that word Vayigash comes from the verb להתקרב  “to come close.” So I want to think what this encounter is about and what does it mean ‘to come close.’

I want to connect it also to another phrase and that is ויותר לבדו “and he was left alone.”

Because Jacob when he was with the angel at night he is left alone (Genesis: 22:24)  ויותר יעקב לבדו.

When Judah is telling Joseph about Benjamin, he says ויותר לבדו הוא לאמו “He is the only one left alone from his mother.”

It is as if there is a code here of what this means to be left alone.

We also know of the pasuk (sentence) in Isaiah. (2:11)

  וְנִשְׂגַּ֧ב יְהֹוָ֛ה לְבַדּ֖וֹ בַּיּ֥וֹם הַהֽוּא


ויותר יהיה לבדו       ונשגב השם לבדו ביום ההוא

And God is left alone לבדו ביום ההוא on that day. So I want to connect this ‘Vayigash’ and לבד ויותר לבדו

What does it mean to encounter? What does it mean be alone, to feel alone?

Every time, in these three times, and I can say every time in these three times that there is a moment of ויגש  a moment of encounter and moment of coming close, and I want to thank Prof. Moshe Benovitz for telling me about this translation of the Aramaic of coming close, as approaching.

This transformation that happens. Judah and Joseph, there is a moment of transformation in the story. Joseph meeting the brothers, there is a moment of transformation of the story. Joseph bringing his sons to Jacob and being blessed, there is a moment of transformation in the story.

So what we are asking for is when thinking about what it is to be alone we are seeking for moments and encounters with people that will transform us.

We can talk as much as we want. We can share ideas as much as we want. But who are the people in our life that when we encounter them we’re transformed – they’re transformed. Who are they encounters that we feel less alone when we walk away from them?

Right now in Israel and in the world there is so much aloneness and loneliness and so much not knowing. I want to bless us all that we have moments of:

ויגש אליו

ותיגש אליה

Moments of people that we can encounter that will help us transform ourselves, even possibly remind ourselves who we are and not get lost and not feel so alone in a world where there are people who are actually so close to us that can help us in those moments.


Shabbat Shalom from Schechter

Reb Mimi serves as the Mashpiah Ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Rabbinical School, and  teaches Talmud and Hassidic Thought. She will guide and walk with the rabbinical students on their personal-spiritual journeys. She served as the Mashpiah Ruchanit of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles for the last 16 years. Prior to this Reb Mimi was one of the founding administration and faculty members of the “Yakar” Beit Midrash and community.

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