My Three Words

Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
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Photograph of Reb Mimi Feigelson
Reb Mimi Feigelson

Reb Mimi Feigelson, is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (WWW.ZIEGLERTORAH.ORG)
She is an Orthodox - Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller. She was the Associate Director of Yakar, Jerusalem and Director of its Women's Beit Ha'midrash.
In 2010 Reb Mimi was recognized by The Forward as one of the fifty most influential female Rabbis in the USA, and in 2011 was accepted to the Board of Rabbi's of Southern California as an independent Orthodox rabbi. Currently Reb Mimi has embarked on pursuing a Doctorate at HUC-JIR, titled: "On the Cusp of Life: From Scared to Sacred". It is an exploration of redefining funerals and cemeteries.

posted on December 15, 2007
Torah Reading
Haftarah Reading

"Vayigash eilav Yehuda" - "And Yehuda approached him." (Breishit/Genesis 44, 18)

These three words create the world of transformation. Yehuda (Judah) doesn't approach "Yoseph" (Joseph) but rather approaches "him". You may ask if this truly makes such a difference, am I not trying to see in the Torah more than is there.

I have the Ishbitzer rebbe (R' Mordechai Yoseph (!) Lainer of Ishbitza, 1800-1854) to thank for this. In his teachings, The Mei HaShiloach, he says: "To him, meaning the depth of the soul of Yoseph to the extent that he was forced to reveal himself to them." In the mystical traditions our name is yet another title, so to speak. God has multiple names, multiple manifestations. We have multiple names. Think of the names that people use to draw your attention and how the different names express the nature of your relationship with these people.

What does it mean to be approached "in the depth of your soul"? What does it mean to be seen as you are, not merely as you present yourself to be?

The Ishbitzer rebbe, based on our mystical sources, portrays Yoseph as the Tzaddik (the righteous one) and Yehuda as the Ba'al T'shuva (the one in perpetual repentance). "Vayigash eilav Yehuda" is a moment where these two worlds finally meet.

Being a Tzaddik means that you do everything right - the right thing at the right time.
Being a Ba'al Tshuva means that there is always a way to perfect what you are doing.

Being a Tzaddik means that you live within the boundaries of time and finitude.
Being a Ba'al Tshuva means that every moment carries with it a promise of spontaneity, creativity, vitality and renewed freshness; a moment of the infinite.

I would like to share with you two "Vayigash eilav Yehuda" moments in my life.

The first was while riding a NYC bus between the Bronx and Manhattan some 18 years ago with my aunt Joanie, on our daily visits to see my grandfather in the hospital. Though it was his hospitalization that brought me from Israel, I knew that these bus rides were also my good-bye to aunt Joanie who had been battling cancer. It was here that I understood the kabbalistic - archetypical representation of Yoseph and Yehuda, thus leading me to the potency of the biblical encounter.

On those bus rides I knew that I was sitting there as a Yoseph, and my aunt Joanie was my Yehuda - tapping into my world of answers with her limitless imagination, creativity and play. It wasn't in her words as much as it was in her approaching me, my eilav, his/her inner space, which made the difference in my life. She left this world half a year later, during the week of parashat Vayigash.

My second "Vayigash eilav Yehuda" moment was in England, eight years ago - to the month - at a Limmud conference. A new friend had wanted to seek guidance about his cannabis addiction. He wanted me to pray for him. Clearly, in that moment, as we sat down on the floor of an open space, I was the Yoseph, he was the Yehuda. It took only 20 minutes for our roles to flip. In a letter that I wrote to him 2 weeks later you can read the reversal:

" … If you recall our conversation on the floor, you got up and went to talk with your friends while I got up and went to buy some food before I went on my merry way to hear some music. If you remember, as I was putting what I bought into my pack you saw what I was doing. I tried to change my position a bit so that you wouldn't see, but you walked by me and said, "I just want you to know that I saw." From the deepest place within me I want to thank you, as hard at that moment was for me. Actually the depth of the darkness of it for me is the flip-side of the multitude of gratitude that I want to thank you with. I had never been seen in that way. I had never been seen stashing away food. I had never been seen literally at the moment of self destruction. It was the first time in my life that someone was holding a mirror to my face saying, "Take a look at yourself. Not from your mind, but simply allow your eyes to see what they are seeing." I wanted to die at that moment. I felt so small, smaller than ever before. I felt totally naked. Like every achievement that I ever garmented myself with had disappeared and I was left standing there in front of everyone and anyone to see my most broken inner self. It was like I had never seen myself in the mirror until that moment. Yes, I would look in the mirror a dozen times a day to see what I looked like if other people were looking at me, but when was the last time that I had an opportunity to see myself as I truly am?! I still cringe when I think of that moment. It still haunts me most of my awake hours. But I also know that it was a gift that you gave me. It was a gift which was and still is every moment a fruit of your courage. For this I want to thank you."

Yoseph lost his mother at childhood; he was torn from his family and sold to slavery. He sat in prison for 12 years and never wept. It is in this encounter of "Vayigash eilav Yehuda" - "And Yehuda approached him." that leads him to "Then Yoseph could not restrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried... " (Breishit/Genesis 45, 1).

As we enter into this Shabbat with the light of Chanukah still flickering in our hearts and the promise of a new month (Tevet) birthed in our souls, may we be blessed with a "Vayigash eilav Yehuda" - "And Yehuda approached him" encounter: Whether as a Yehuda, as a Yoseph or as both. May the tears that come to our eyes be tears of gratitude and enable us to reveal ourselves in a new way.

Shabbat shalom and chodesh tov.