At the end of last week's Parsha, Mikeitz, things were looking grim. Joseph – having not yet revealed his true identity – had accused his bothers of theft and spying, and Benjamin was about to be arrested and imprisoned.
Then Parshat Mikeitz abruptly ends.
As the story resumes in Parshat Vayigash, the Jewish world is crumbling further: Yehudah threatens to send his brothers on a violent rampage if this Egyptian Prime Minister (i.e. Joseph) doesn't stop his oppressive tactics.
At this very moment – with the brothers toe-to-toe, locked in an explosive impasse – Joseph reveals himself as their long-lost brother. With three words, "I am Joseph" (Genesis 45:3), everything now becomes clear. The previous 22 years of doubt and suffering were all worth it, "all part of G-d's master plan," says Joseph. The reunited brothers hug, and all's well that ends well.
Rabbi Zev Leff asks: Why did the previous parsha have to end with such a cliffhanger? Why didn't the Torah simply extend Parshat Mikeitz a few more verses and include the resolution of this story? Why do we have to wait a whole week to find out what happens?!
Recall how this entire sequence of events began: Joseph was estranged from his brothers, sold into slavery, then consigned to an Egyptian dungeon. He rises to prominence, positioned to save his family from a devastating famine – and even gets the brothers to bow as a fulfillment of his ealier dreams.
More than any other biblical account, this story illustrates how "everything turns out good in end." In order to drive home the lesson, the Torah makes us wait one week to find out the ending!
In a sense this is the story of our own lives as well. We work, we plan, we struggle – and things often end up a mess. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. How do the pieces of this puzzle possibly fit together?
The premise for this question stems from a limited perspective. We often imagine that the world began when we're born, and ends when we die. Everything beforehand is lumped together as "ancient history." If we can't understand it today, we conclude that it makes no sense at all.
In truth, we are here on Earth for only a short time. We cannot see the "Big Picture." We don't know all the details that happened beforehand, and we certainly don't know what will happen after we're gone. It's unfair to take a single event out of context and question what appears to be injustice. We might not see the answer immediately; we might not even see it in our lifetime.
Perhaps that's why older people possess a special wisdom – through the perspective of time, they've seen how seemingly unrelated events connect together.
Parshat Vayigash tells how Jacob, his children and grandchildren all get ready to move down to Egypt. And the verse says that Jacob sent his son Yehudah ahead to make preparations for their arrival. The word for preparation is "L'horot" - related to the word Torah. In other words, Yehudah went ahead to set up a yeshiva, a school of Torah study.
Here we see the primacy of Torah study. Judaism without Torah is like a body without a soul, devoid of its most essential lifeline. Indeed, the Talmud says that "Torah scholars bring peace to the world." That's because the goal of Torah study is to develop caring, thinking human beings, who honor every person as created in the image of God. Torah scholars, therefore, are role models of peace whose influence radiates outward and affects, ultimately, the whole world.
Though there was a time when American Jewry largely disregarded the value of Torah study, the tide is now turning. The recent emergence of "community kollels" is raising the standard of commitment, and leaders from across the Jewish spectrum are proclaiming that Torah study is crucial to preserving Jewish identity. In the words of the leader of the American Reform movement:
"Only education rooted in a commitment to G-d, Torah and mitzvot will succeed; nothing else in the 3,000-year history of the Jewish people has ever worked."
That idea is right here in this parsha - when Jacob sent Yehudah to open a Torah academy, laying the foundation of Jewish life in Egypt.