Shabbat Shalom: Drawing Near

Dec 21, 2023 | Article

Shabbat Shalom: Drawing Near

Dec 21, 2023

By: Renée Rockford
President & CEO

This week’s parshah, Vayigash, means, “to draw near.” It alludes to a “dance” of reconciliation, of trauma and movement, of vulnerability and resilience, of honesty and confrontation, and reconciliation, maybe even forgiveness.

In this parshah, we learn of the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers after more than 20 years of separation. Yehuda offers to trade himself to save Binyanim. Jacob finds out Joseph is still alive and is speechless and goes down to meet him. God tells Jacob not to fear going down to Egypt: “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again.” Joseph gives land and food to his family, which saves them from famine.

The theme of “drawing near” is echoed throughout the parshah says Rabbi Rachel Rosenbluth, with whom I have the pleasure of studying through the Jewish Learning Collaborative. Yehuda approaches Joseph, Joseph asks his brothers to draw near. Rosenbluth continues, “My friend Zohar Atkins, said it well, ‘Vayigash is more than just a physical movement of stepping closer; it marks the “face-to-face encounter” that French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry Emmanuel Levinas says is “the basis for true relationship.'”

Drawing near is a powerful initiation during these hard times. It is the same description of the oft-used contemporary words of “leaning in:” to “persevere in spite of risk or difficulty.”

At this very difficult moment, we ask, “How do we draw nearer to ourselves and our pain? How do we remain connected to ourselves rather than disconnected through bingeing news and social media? How do we remain connected to our dear loved ones who are suffering? How do we remain connected to the suffering of those whom we are not close to, suffering of the ‘other’? Where do we draw boundaries in friendships where closeness may not feel so safe right now?”

Perhaps we can learn from Joseph whose “courage to approach” is what is most needed right now. In this, the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, our world may seem dark, but we are reminded through our studies that even in the darkest times of our lives, light and reconciliation and healing are possible. Wishing you each a Shabbat filled with light and brightness.

Please email Renée Rockford at with questions or comments.