Parshat Vayigash: Telling  Our  Story

Posted by Tovah Leah Nachmani on December 28, 2011
Topics: VaYigash

In recent years –

A particularly quiet student sits in my class, listening attentively, but not speaking. After a few classes I ask for a meeting. In a quiet place I invite her, “Tell me your story.”  Within minutes the student is in tears.  A relationship break-up. “Sorry,” she says, wiping away the tears. “On the contrary,” I respond. “I’m happy to listen.” In the ensuing weeks, the student opens up like a flower.

An intensely motivated student speaks out in class, frustrated and discontent with my reading of a text. I welcome her challenge to my reading, and after class I ask for a meeting. “Tell me your story,” I offer, and hear of a parent’s death that she never allowed herself to process.  The student has begun a long awaited and gratifying journey of reconnecting with the memories of her deceased parent.

An excited student comes to me enthusiastically after class. “What we studied today is just what I am struggling with.” Again, I invite a meeting, and ask for his story.  A family crisis. Together we come up with some new ideas and a resolve: to ask a difficult family member to share his story.

Since coming to work at Pardes, I have also opened up. Reconnected with people. And resolved a few family crises. I have become more and more willing to move beyond a certain tough and overly capable-of-solving-my-own-problems self-image. I have shared my own stories of struggle with people who care enough to listen and to guide.  As a direct result, I have noticed myself  becoming a more compassionate listener.

This is one reason,  maybe the first – on my list of #101 reasons why I love Pardes – because of the hidden stories. And because of the people who are willing to tell them.

In the opening scene of Parshat Vayigash this week, Yehuda pours out his story to Yosef. It takes guts to tell our story. To expose our vulnerabilities. Yehuda begins with trepidation, lest Yosef block his story, pronouncing judgment before he has a chance to share the core of his fear.

Yehuda speaks in subservient formalities before the reigning power on the throne, exaggeratedly repeating the words “your servant,” and speaking what he thinks the vice-Pharo wants to hear.  But in a cathartic moment at the end of his monologue, the authentic inner voice of his soul breaks through and says, “For how can I go up to my father if the boy is not with me lest I see the evil that will befall my father?

His greatest fear is to have to finally face within himself the pain and anguish he has caused his father.  Yehuda’s moment of catharsis becomes the turning point for the reunification of Yosef’s heart with that of his brothers.

I wonder if this may be what ultimately, subconsciously, brings students –as well as teachers – to Pardes, and maybe to Israel at all. Perhaps what brings many of us here is the desire to listen to the stories of our own tradition which have been meticulously transmitted from generation to generation.  Because hearing the stories of others can inspire us, and even give us the courage to tell our own story. And to seek out people who care enough to listen.

Questions for further reflection:

  • To whom do you feel you can tell (segments of) your story?
  • What is it that enables you to open up with them?
  • With whom do you wish you could share more of your story?
  • Sometimes it is the very person with whom I feel friction, or near whom I feel distance, who has a story to tell.  From whom could you invite a story?

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