Topic: Kabbalistic Concepts | Posted:December 24, 2014
The portion of Vayigash begins, “Vayigash elav Yehuda,” meaning “Yehuda stood up to Joseph.” But it is not literally just about Yehuda standing up to Joseph; its meaning is much more profound than that. Vayigash elav Yehuda is about us coming to the Creator with the azut dekedusha, holy audacity,to stand up and ask for things beyond our capabilities. And it is not a coincidence, therefore, that we read this portion on the Shabbat after Chanukah; the reason a few Maccabees were able to defeat the Greek army was not because they had special physical strength. The miracle was made possible because they stood up with, and achieved, holy audacity.
In the Talmud, there is a story of Nakdimon ben Guryon. During the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, many Israelites, as well as international visitors, come to Jerusalem to celebrate these cosmic events. During one such time, many more people than expected came to the city, and there was no water for them to drink.
Nakdimon ben Guryon, a very remarkable and wealthy man who lived in Jerusalem at that time, went to another wealthy man who owned wells of water. He said, “Let me borrow twelve wells of water from you so that all the people who are in Jerusalem can drink. I promise that by a specified date, I will make sure to pay you back with twelve wells filled with water. And if on that day I am not able to give you those twelve wells of water, I promise to give you twelve pieces of silver.” In those days, twelve pieces of silver was an enormous amount of money.
The wealthy man and Nakdimon agreed on a specific date for the payback. It did not rain all year, and when it came time for Nakdimon to pay the wealthy man back with twelve holes filled with water, he could not. Nakdimon had assumed that it would rain and that the twelve holes that he had dug would be filled with water in time to repay the wealthy man.
On the morning of the day he was to repay the wealthy man, the wealthy man sent Nakdimon a message: “Give me the water if you have it, or give me the money. Today is the day you agreed to pay me back.” Nakdimon sent a message back to the wealthy man: “Do not worry, I have all day to pay you back.” That afternoon, Nakdimon received another message: “Pay me back the water or money,” to which Nakdimon replied: “There is still some time left in the day.” Toward sunset, a third message arrived: “Give me the water or the money.” Again Nakdimon replied: “Do not worry, I still have time in the day to repay you.”
The wealthy man laughed when he heard this reply. It had not rained all year. Did Nakdimon really think that in the next few hours of this day, enough rain was going to fall to fill up his twelve wells with water?
Nakdimon went to the temple and began to pray. He said to the Creator, “You know why I borrowed these twelve wells of water. It was not for me. It was not for my family. I did it for You.” The moment Nakdimon finished his prayer, the rain fell with tremendous force and filled - to overflowing - the twelve wells with water. When Nakdimon left the temple, he met the wealthy man in the street and jokingly said to him, “Now you owe me some money because these wells of repayment are overflowing with water. I am giving you back more than I borrowed.”
The wealthy man answered, “I know that the only reason it rained today is because of you. The Creator changed the world for you. But if I wanted to, I could still complain. Now that it is overcast, and therefore dark, I could say that it rained after the sun had already set. So, it really rained on my day, not yours, and you still have to pay me the money.”
So, Nakdimon went back into the temple and prayed once more, saying to the Creator, “Let the world know that You have beloved people in this world and that I am truly connected to You.” Immediately, the clouds disappeared, the sky cleared, and the sun began to shine.
Here we have a story that contains two miracles. First, Nakdimon said to the Creator, “The only reason that I now owe this man the water is because I did it for You,” and the Creator immediately created the miracle of rain. It had not rained for an entire year, but when Nakdimon truly asked for it, the rain came. The second miracle occurred when Nakdimon went back into the temple and prayed again to the Creator, “Let the world know that I am truly connected to You,” and the sun shone. I think the second miracle is the greater of the two because with the first miracle, Nakdimon was desperate; it had not rained all year, and he did not want to repay the wealthy man with money. It was a great miracle, but it was a miracle born of desperation.
The second miracle occurred, however, when Nakdimon stood up with holy audacity,and said, “No, I control this world.” Nakdimon could have argued with the wealthy man for many hours and probably could have won, but instead, he went back into the temple and prayed, “Let them know that I am connected to You.” Thus, the second miracle is more significant than the first miracle.
Many people, when they are desperate, ask the Creator to come and assist them, but not enough of us have the holy audacity to stand up and say, “We are going to make the world change. We are going to tell the Creator that He has to create this miracle.”
How do we break through the wall that still keeps us in darkness, that still keeps pain in our lives, that still keeps darkness and pain in our world? We can break through with the audacity to stand up and say, “I am going to ask for, and receive, beyond my capabilities.” Nakdimon did it. Yehuda did it. And on the Shabbat of Vayigash, we all have the ability and capability to stand up to ask for beyond what we can do. On the Shabbat of Vayigash, Yehuda awakens this within us.