OzTorah: Torah reading – Vayyiggash

Apologies to Rabbi Apple and readers. This should have been posted a few days ago but wit all the holidays it got completely overlooked.


After a lot of drama. Joseph and his brothers are finally reconciled. Years of estrangement fall away. All of Egypt soon hears that Joseph’s family have arrived in the country and will be settling down under Joseph’s benevolent auspices.

Despite the lack of modern means of transport and communication, the news travels far and fast – “vehakol nishma” (Gen. 45:16). The Zohar points out that the word “kol”, a voice or sound, is spelt without the usual middle letter, “vav”. The result is that it looks like “kal”, easy, simple.

The lesson we learn from the Zohar is that there are two types of sound, loud and soft, “hard” and “easy”. Anyone can make a big blustering noise and indeed be a big noise, but, perhaps strangely, the second type of sound is generally more audible.

This point figured in the advice I once gave to an aspiring preacher, to whom I said, “You know, you don’t have to shout; the congregation will hear you even better if you enunciate properly and don’t rush your words, but speak on a quieter level and let your content sink in”. Sometimes you don’t have to be audible at all; a quiet companionable silence can be very effective.

No wonder the sages advise us not to talk too much when we seek to comfort a person who is bereaved (Avot 4:18). A good general rule is often, “Let the occasion (even a simchah) speak for itself!”


The brothers of Joseph were sent out to bring their old father in Canaan the news that Joseph is still alive and holds a high position in Egypt. Farewelling the brothers on their journey, Joseph tells them, “Don’t squabble on the way” (Gen. 45:24). The Targum Onkelos treats the word “tir’g’zu” as meaning, “Don’t start quarrelling with each other”.

Why on earth should they quarrel?

One view advanced by Rashi is that they might argue with each other as to who started the whole episode of the sale of Joseph as a servant. Ramban thinks the word means “Don’t tremble”, i.e. “Don’t lose your nerve out of fear of being attacked by bandits on the way”. Rashi, however, adds another suggestion based on Talmudic exegesis: “Don’t start arguing about halachic matters, about ‘The Way’, i.e. Halachah”.

No-one wants to suggest that people shouldn’t engage in halachic discussion, but where it becomes a problem is when people lose track of time or place, which in the case of Joseph’s brothers could lead them to get lost and put themselves in peril.

On another level, academic variation – inevitable as part of debate over points of halachah – can become personal and lead people to insult each other because they can’t disagree peacefully.


How does the haftarah end? With a fine example of the art of public relations.

When the tribes of Israel are united in the land of Israel,

“the nations shall know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for ever” (Ezek. 37:28).

“The nations shall know”… clearly it matters that the nations get the right message, and that’s public relations. So much depends on the perception. It’s important to give a positive image.

There are so many Biblical precedents. When God wanted to destroy the people of Israel after they had sinned, Moses urged Him to consider the public relations aspect of His plan. What would the nations say? That “It was because You could not bring them in to the Promised Land that You put an end to them in the wilderness” (Num. 14:16, Deut. 9:28; see also Ex. 32:12).

When Israel seemed to be wavering in their commitment to the commandments, Moses told them that if they observed the Divine will the nations would respect them and say,

“Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6).

The Psalmist often pleads with God to bear in mind what the nations will say:

“Why should the nations say, “‘Where is their God?'” (Psalm 79:10, 115:2).

In halachic decision-making, public relations should also be borne in mind, according to Rav Soloveitchik, who was concerned about the image which a particular decision expressed in a particular way might give of the orthodox rabbinate (not that a decision would be shelved for the sake of PR alone, but the timing, context and phraseology had to take note of the perception of outsiders).

Today, as often before, Israel’s PR (called in Hebrew “hasbarah”) is a crucial concern. This is not the first time the media – and international leaders – have decided to demonise Israel. Hostile perceptions of Israel tell us more about the critics than about the Middle East – but there is still a problem. Israel seems to have serious deficiencies in its public relations policies and machinery, and it does not help to say,

“The world will not love us even if our PR is perfect!”

At the very least there should be a clear policy that no Israeli spokesman will be let loose unless he or she is totally fluent in the language of the country concerned. For us that means absolute mastery of English. It also means that Jewish PR professionals in many countries should be recruited in an official or unofficial capacity to assist. “Why should the nations say…” that Israel cannot articulate a positive case?


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

Check Also

Whenever I feel afraid – Rosh HaShanah

Julie Andrews made it into a famous song – the notion that whenever I feel …