Nothing in the Torah is arbitrary, be it a word, a letter, a pause between sections or the lack of one.
Similarly, the name of each Torah portion reflects the contents and theme of the entire portion, and is not just a convenient way to distinguish between chapters.
(This helps to explain why certain portions are known by their initial word, whereas others receive their name from the second, third and subsequent words of the first verse.)
This principle is clearly demonstrated by the name of this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash.
Our portion relates Judah’s impassioned plea for the release of Benjamin, the reunion of Joseph with his brothers, the descent of Jacob and his sons to Egypt, and other occurrences.
A close look reveals that the common thread running through all these events is the theme of unity, summed up by the Hebrew word “Vayigash” – “And he drew near.”
“Vayigash” implies an actual physical meeting, one person approaching another to the point where they become one. According to the mystical Zohar, when Judah “drew near” to Joseph, it symbolized “the approach of one world to the other; the uniting of one with the other, till one entity was attained.”
The theme of unity is also expressed in this week’s haftora (which generally echoes the same theme as the Torah portion itself), which speaks of the unification of the divided Jewish people – the “kingdom of Judah” and the “kingdom of Joseph” – that will take place in the Messianic Era. “And I will make them one nation in the land” the haftora reads, “And one king shall be king over them all.”
“Vayigash” stands for the creation of unity in a place of discord and disharmony. Judah’s offer to sacrifice himself on behalf of Benjamin demonstrated the unity and brotherhood that finally reigned between the sons of Jacob.
Joseph’s revelation of his true identity likewise symbolised the unification of all twelve tribes – forever granting their descendents the power to achieve true unity when Moshiach comes, speedily in our day.
The rest of Vayigash also expresses this theme, as the whole purpose of Jacob’s descent into Egypt and his children’s settlement there for hundreds of years was solely for the purpose of demonstrating G-d’s unity in one of the lowliest places on earth. It was in Egypt, “the most corrupt among the nations,” according to our Sages, that the Jewish people became a holy and unified nation.
Vayigash teaches us that unity is the essential foundation upon which Jewish life is built. But not only is unity the beginning, it is the objective of all our service as well, a goal that will be fully realised with the revelation of Moshiach.