Parashah (portion) Vayigash – Soul To Soul
Genesis 44:18 – 47:27
This week’s Torah portion opens in Pharaoh’s quarters where Joseph, who has yet to reveal himself to his brothers, is receiving them after a “stolen” goblet (planted by Joseph) was discovered in Benjamin’s sack. Judah steps up, understanding that Benjamin (Jacob and Rachel’s only other son and Joseph’s brother) was sure to become a slave to Pharaoh, and begs Joseph to spare his step brother. He pleads:
… we said to my lord, “We have an old father and a young child of [his] old age; his [full] brother is dead. He alone is left from his mother, and his father loves him”… We said to my lord, “The youth cannot leave his father, for should he leave his father, he will die… And now, if I come to your servant my father and the youth is not with us–since his soul is bound up with his soul–it will happen that when he sees the youth is missing he will die… [Gen. 44:20-31]
Judah is describing here a beautiful father-son connection between Jacob and Benjamin. The words he uses, claiming that “his soul is bound with his soul – naf’sho k’shurah b’naf’sho,” are truly powerful. Benjamin came late in Jacob’s life and was the fruit of his love for Rachel who died giving birth to him. He, also, was their only surviving son, as Jacob believed Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, had been killed by a wild beast. After that, Jacob’s raison d’être became inextricably connected to Benjamin’s life; Jacob lived for his surviving son, “his life was bound with his life.”
The fact that Torah used the word nefesh in this case, points to something deeper than the filial bond, however extraordinary, between a father and a son. Nefesh is the one of the five levels of soul described by Kabbalah, and defined as the energy animating our physical self, the essential vitality of sentient beings, the dualistic level of soul. What Torah is hinting at here, is that the nefesh-to-nefesh connection linking Jacob to Benjamin transcended the apparent separation between them. There was no longer a father on one side loving a son separate from him on the other side; rather, they experienced the very energy, the very vibration of their being as One. How is that possible?
We find a rabbinic commentary that points to the root of this connection the two share. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher (born in Germany c. 1269 CE,) notes that our verse “He alone is left – vayevater hu levado” appears just one other time in the entire Torah, a few chapters earlier, when “Jacob was left alone – vayevater Yaacov levado” on the night of his wrestling with an angel (see Gen: 32:25). This suggests that a deep sense of spiritual aloneness was their common bond. This kind of aloneness is not synonymous with isolation or separation. One can be physically connected to an extended family–as is the case here–yet have reached the spiritual level of aloneness, of complete non-attachment Torah is alluding to. To be alone is to recognize the conditioning that keeps us attached to memories, emotions, people, worldviews and ideologies; and to deeply know that we are not this conditioning. This dissolving of one’s conditioning is the spiritual aloneness that Jacob and Benjamin share; the knowing of the ultimate Truth of their Being. And it is this depth of knowing that allowed them to experience this connection nefesh-to-nefesh, soul-to-soul.