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    The diplomatic approach – Vayyiggash

    Joseph & Judah, by James Tissot

    The portion begins with Judah’s representations to a high Egyptian official who was actually his own brother, though at this point he did not recognise him.

    The first word of the verse could have been different. Instead of Vayyiggash – “And he approached”, it could have been “And he stepped forward”, “And he spoke out”. What then is the point of the narrative saying he approached?

    Presumably because the word implies being courteous and diplomatic. Not a blunt confrontation but an endeavour to be gracious and tactful.

    Professional diplomats know well how much that kind of approach costs them. They have to contain themselves and not lose their temper.

    It’s not easy. The sages say, Kol hat’chalot kashot – “All beginnings are difficult”. The Chinese have a saying about how hard it is to take the first step.

    Of all the brothers, Judah may well have been the most diplomatic… though he also had his moments when his diplomatic control wavered.

    In this instance he knew exactly what he wanted – justice for his brother Benjamin and no further distress for his aged father Jacob – but he also knew that he had to tread lightly at the beginning and try to get the Egyptian ruler on side. That is why he said, “Let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ear” (Gen. 44:18).

    Bluster, bellowing or bravado would not have been nearly so effective as a first ploy. The Midrash, however, adds that he gradually had to adopt a stronger tone because he felt that justice for his brother and father demanded no less (Gen. R. 93:7).

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