Three Steps Forward


The final act of the Yosef/brothers drama concludes this week with a bold decision by Yehudah. Objecting to the viceroy’s (Yosef’s) demand, he refuses to leave Egypt without his youngest brother, Binyamin. As the Parsha describes this activity it uses the words, “Vayigash Eilav Yehudah…” (44:18), Yehudah approached him (Yosef).

Although it may sound like an innocent verb,  Rabbi Elazar Ben Yehuda (The “Rokeach”, 12th century, Germany) points out that it is one of only 3 instances where this term is used when referencing a supplication in the entire Bible. The other two are when Avraham Avinu, when he pleaded with Hashem to save Sodom (18:23) and Eliyahu Hanavi, when praising Hashem in front of the masses (Melachim 1 18:36). The Rokeach explains that these three “approaches” are actually the source for why we take three steps forward to begin our Shmoneh Esrei, our silent prayer.

The difficulty, however, is that Yehudah’s “approach”, as opposed to the other examples was towards Yosef. Avraham and Eliyahu both beseech Hashem when they approached! Why would Yehudah be a source for our silent prayer if he wasn’t talking to G-d?

If we look at Yehudah’s supplication- we notice that all he says is how responsible he is for the entire situation. He simply explains what happened and why he needs to have Binyamin- a story which Yosef already knows!

Perhaps the idea behind this “approach” and why it is one our “steps” before prayer, is because before we ask Hashem to provide for us, we have to first know ourselves. What have we done recently? What haven’t we done? Where do we need help and where must we improve? Only once we truly know ourselves and our shortcomings can we sincerely ask anything of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom