Vayigash: World of Illusions

“Alma D’Shikra”is a mystical concept that means that the world is full of deception and illusion. The Ishbitzer Rebbe (R. Mordecai Yosef Leiner of Isbitza, 1801-1854) in The Mei Hashiloach, applies the idea of Alma D’Shikra to Vayigash and the dramatic turn of events that takes place when Yehudah confronts Yosef.

Rabbi Tvi Leshem has an excellent drasha explicating this, and, in another article, Rabbi David Fine explains the same concepts from the Ishbitzer Rebbe with a slightly different emphasis. Dixie Yid offers a short vort on this, which give yet another perspective on what the Ishbitzer Rebbe is saying about Vayigash.

The Ishbitzer Rebbe’s insight into Vayigash is that Yehudah’s confrontation of Yosef had an illusion at its foundation. Yehudah thought he was confronting a hostile, powerful Egyptian who posed a threat. He did not realize that he was facing his own brother and was not really ever in danger.

Similarly, the Ishbitzer notes, “when haShem will save us and redeem us, then He will show us that we were never in exile and no nation ever ruled over us, only haShem Himself.” It is an illusion that we are at the mercy of powerful people, whether they be government bureaucrats, despots, or employers. Ultimately, Hashem is in control and we only need worry about answering to a higher authority.

I wanted to do a parsha project that expressed this theme of illusion, so I made a dessert that looks like eggs, feels like eggs, even has the mouthfeel of eggs, but is something entirely different. This parsha dessert demonstrates that we live in a world of illusion, where our perceptions can deceive us.

 

Vayigash means “approached.” The parsha opens with: “Then Yehuda approached him . . .”  According to Midrash Rabbah, “approached” could mean for the purposes of war (Rabbi Yehudah), for conciliation (Rabbi Nechemia),  for prayer (Chazal) or for all three (Rabbi Eleazar).  Rabbi Leshem points out that this echoes Yaacov’s preparation for meeting Esav (presents, prayer and preparation for war), except that here the three different approaches are not obvious from the text.

It is fairly easy to read Yehuda’s statements as appeasement, and Rashi concludes that Yehuda spoke harshly from the phrase “don’t be angry,” but seeing prayer requires a closer look at the phrase “approached him.” Rabbi Leshem cites Rav Elimelech of Lezansk and Rav Zaddock HaKohen for the idea that Yehuda was speaking to Hashem.

This three-pronged approach by Yehudah is a dramatic turnaround from his stance at the end of Miketz, when he seemed to have conceded defeat (“What shall we say to my master? What shall we speak, and how shall we exonerate ourselves?”).  Yehudah’s hallmark trait, the Ishbitzer says, is never giving up, and this is what earned him the blessing of royalty, of leadership (see the Rabbi Fine article for more on this).  He may crouch like a lion, but like a lion he rises up.

The result of Yehudah’s prayers and his renewed efforts was that Yosef revealed himself and the brothers escaped the danger they thought they faced.

The Ishbitzer writes that “with this haShem teaches us that no one should ever give up hope, even if it seems to him that salvation is very distant.” We should always believe that Hashem will help us, even if we feel undeserving (see Dixie Yid). While Yosef represents the Tzaddik who has conquered his Yetzer Harah, Yehudah is a model for the Ba’al Teshuva (Rav Zaddok HaKohen).

There is another message about salvation in Vayigash, according to the Ishbitzer. When Yosef reveals himself, it becomes apparent that they were never in real danger, it was just an illusion. Yehudah only thought he was “standing in front of a gentile king and arguing with him,”  but “in reality they had been arguing with their own brother”. The Ishbitzer explains that this is metaphor for Moshiach: “and so too in the future, when haShem will save us and redeem us, then He will show us that we were never in exile and no nation ever ruled over us, only haShem Himself.” (see Rabbi Leshem).

I took this theme of illusion and transformation and applied it to the parsha dessert.

 

I thought it would be fun to make a trompe l’oeil dessert. Chef Michel Richard has a fondness for trompe l’oeil “egg” dishes, like the Virtual Eggs (kind of a salad caprese) where the “egg white” is mozzarella and the “yolk” is yellow tomato. And I love Maggie Ruggerio’s  lemon pudding egg served in an eggshell with cake “toast” , also here and here).

Here is how I made my “eggs” :

Trompe L’Oeil Eggs
Inspired by this vintage recipe posted at Sunday Hotpants for “poached eggs.”

1 package Ko-Jel (combined with the milk, makes the “white”)
2 cups sweetened coconut milk (I used a sweetened variety that comes aseptically packaged like soy or rice milk, but add sugar to taste)
canned apricot halves, patted dry (“yolks”)
vanilla bean paste (“pepper”)
sugar (“salt”)
Pound cake (“toast”)

Prepare the Ko-Jel following package directions, using sweetened coconut milk (add sugar to taste if milk unsweetened).  Let the Ko-Jel mixture cool and thicken just a bit (it should still be warm and pourable). For poached eggs, fill greased ramekins with some of the coconut mixture and gently place over an apricot half, rounded side down. Add more coconut mixture to cover. For fried eggs, pour out a round shape on greased foil to make whites. Top with apricot “yolks,” rounded side up. For eggs over easy, dip apricot in the coconut mixture to glaze it thinly before placing it on the white, rounded side up.

Chill the eggs until set.

Note: the inspiration recipe calls for pouring the “white” mixture into a square pan, chilling until set and then cutting out 3″ circles.

Toast slices of pound cake for the “toast” (I was lazy and just used slices of cake, but it pays to make an effort here).

I was initially thinking about making lemon curd for the runny yolk I was going to cut the “egg” and have some “yolk” run out) and maybe a raspberry sauce “ketchup,” but utter laziness prevailed. Another idea is making a faux hollandaise sauce using vanilla pudding mix.

There were other ideas I had considered, like making chocolate cake truffle meatballs with rasberry sauce, or string beans made with tinted cookie dough (and how about this recipe for green tinted mint cookie dough truffles as the base recipe).

For doing something with the kids, I made up some potato candy (mashed potato and powdered sugar, about 9 ounces powdered sugar to 3 Tbl. mashed potato). The taste was cloying (although they would have been tasty flavored with mint and dipped in chocolate), so I mixed in some peanut butter to make peanut butter playdough. These get shaped and rolled in cinnamon sugar “dirt.”

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2 Responses to “Vayigash: World of Illusions”

  1. Leora Says:

    Fascinating – I am reading your lovely d’var Torah and wondering, what does this have to do with eggs? Why is she showing us egg photos? Truly trompe l’oeil.

    Thanks for teaching us about Yehudah and how he approached Yosef.

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