The Rokeiach writes that the source for our stepping three steps forward before beginning the Amida is in commemoration of the three times Tanach uses the word “Vayigash”: by Avraham as he pleads to Hashem on behalf of Sedom, by Eliyahu Hanavi as he pleads to Hashem on behalf of Kiddush Hashem, and by Yehuda, at the beginning of our Parsha, when he pleads to Yosef on behalf of Binyamin.
Of the three “vayigash”s, the one that seems not to fit is the one that begins Parshat Vayigash. It is only here that the word seems to refer to approaching before a human leader, and not Hashem. It emerges yet from the Rokeiach that although Yehuda is literally pleading before the Viceroy of Egypt, his thoughts are directed towards the King of Kings. Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky in his Nesivos Shalom, develops the idea, based on Kaballah, that Yehuda’s approach before Yosef and the details therein is a paradigm of prayer for us all. In the past I have shared some of his approach. I’d like to share with you another idea.
In the dialogue, Yehuda recounts how the Viceroy had asked them: “Do you have an Av (father) or Ach (brother)? (44:19). Nesivos Shalom suggests from here we learn a way to expand our horizons and focus as it relates to prayer. Prayer can be viewed as basically a selfish endeavor. I ask for things from Hashem. And the efficacy of prayer can be measured by how much of those things I get. However, this would shortchange the meaning of tefilah, and leave most of us frustrated and unhappy- for rarely do we see “all of our prayers answered”- in the precise way that we had hoped.
“Av” and “Ach” are two ways to broaden our vision about the impacts and benefits of tefilah:
“Father”: when we pray, it develops and strengthens our relationship with Hashem. Whether or not we get exactly what we ask for, just “Standing before the King” and developing that relationship is a worthwhile endeavor. In this sense, the process is the goal and therefore is beneficial in and of itself.
“Brother”: when we pray, we don’t only ask for ourselves. Note how all of the requests in our Amidah are phrased in the plural. Tefilah is an exercise in strengthening our relationship wiith and responsibilities towards, or fellow Jews. That is one reason why we ask for all the things we ask for, even if at a particular moment in time we feel as if we are blessed enough in that way. There are others who are lacking and it is our responsibility to feel for them and to pray on their behalf.
The question posed to Yehuda is one that we must pose to ourselves: Do we have an Av and Ach? Do we realize that the goal of tefilah includes strengthening our relationships Bein Adam l’Makom (between man and God) as well as Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (between man and his fellow man)?