Vayigash: Language Of The Heart

No Interpreter Needed

“And Judah approached Joseph and he said, ‘Please my master, allow your servant to speak in the ears of my master and do not become angry at your servant for you are like Pharaoh.’ ” (Genesis 44:18)

When Judah pleads with the “Egyptian viceroy” not to take Benjamin as a slave, he doesn’t know that this powerful official is actually his own brother Joseph. He doesn’t know the viceroy understands Hebrew; until this moment they’ve been communicating through an interpreter. So why does Judah now ask to speak in the viceroy’s ears, in a language an Egyptian wouldn’t understand? 

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soleveichik explains that Judah wants the viceroy to hear the raw emotion in his voice as he pleads for his younger brother. The language of the heart doesn’t need translation. A similar situation happened to the great sage known as the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1838-1933.) A harsh decree against the Jews had been passed and the Chofetz Chaim went to a government official to plead for mercy on behalf of his people. As a translator began to translate the Chofetz Chaim’s words from Yiddish, the official interrupted and said that no translation was necessary. The emotion in the rabbi’s voice came through loud and clear and the decree was lessened.

Rabbi Soleveichik provides another insight into this verse, focusing on the art of persuasion. If you want to convince somebody of something, you first have to make sure they’re open to hearing what you have to say. If the person is close-minded, even the most articulate argument won’t make a difference. When Judah asks if he can “speak in the ears” of the viceroy, he’s asking for a fair hearing. Benjamin Rose finds a powerful lesson in this teaching. Before launching into an impassioned attempt to convince someone of something, start by saying “If what I say makes sense, are you willing to change you mind?” Imagine how much better the world would be if we all had the humility to listen fairly to an opposing argument!

Dedicated by Jose Dominguez

Image: “The Triumph of Joseph” by Hilaire Pader, 1657

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