"And Judah drew near to him and said, Oh my lord...." (Gen. 44:18)

The Talmud says, "A person should always praise G‑d first, and then pray [for his needs]." (Berachot 31a) Yet, in another place, the Talmud states the opposite view: "Rabbi Eliezer said, a person should first ask for his needs, and then pray." (Avoda Zara 7b)

The essence of a craftsman can be found in the craft that he creates….

The resolution is that there are two separate approaches. The Ramban writes that the essence of a craftsman can be found in the craft that he creates.

Whenever a person creates something, something of his soul enters into and remains in their handicraft. Great Kabbalists, such as the Arizal and the Baal Shem Tov, could look at an object and immediately know everything about the one who made it. Here, the Baal Shem Tov applies the principle to Creation itself. Since it is G‑d's handiwork, there must be a remnant of the Creator within it.

Likewise, the Creation is compared to a snail, whose garment is part of itself. (Midrash Rabbati, Bereishit 21:5)

The Creation is not something separate from or outside of the Divine. It is part of G‑d, and His presence is continually present within it.

In all suffering, there exists a spark of holiness….

In all suffering, there exists a spark of holiness from G‑d, although it is hidden within many garments. This is the meaning of the verse "The seven maids chosen to be given to her, from the king's house". (Esther 2:9)

The "seven maids" represent the sparks of holiness that have fallen among the "shells" of impurity. The Hebrew word for "maid", "naara", is related to the world "to shake out", in Hebrew "minoar", because the holiness found in these sparks has been "shaken out" of them, until almost nothing remains. However, these sparks yearn to return to their root. Thus, the passage from Esther continues, "When it came the turn for each maid to come into the king…" (Esther 2:12) - that is, each spark of holiness has a pre-determined time that it will leave the shells of impurity, and come before the King.

When a person realizes that G‑d is with him even there, the garments become transparent and disappear, and the suffering is abated.

This is what it means to offer praise first. G‑d's praise is that His glory fills the entire universe. "In all their afflictions, He is [in Hebrew, 'lo'] afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9) - then, there is no affliction - and one can pray.

The word "lo" in this verse is written differently than it is read. It is written lamed vav, which means "to him". However, tradition tells us to read the word "lo" as though it were written with lamed alef, which means "no", in this case meaning "there is not". The Baal Shem Tov combines both readings. When a person realizes that G‑d is present in all of his afflictions, then the afflictions themselves cease to exist.

When one knows how to praise G‑d in this way, the suffering will disappear by itself.

The evil viceroy of Egypt turned out to be their beloved brother, whose intentions were only for their good….

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef adds here: "I heard from my Master [the Baal Shem Tov] that this is the meaning of the verse 'You will establish their heart, Your ears will hear [their prayers]". (Psalms 10:17)

The other opinion says to pray first.

This refers to a person who prays for his needs, without first praising G‑d; that is, coming to the realization that G‑d is present even in the affliction.

In this case, a person has faith that G‑d is also there [in the affliction], so that he can offer his praise [afterward].

In other words, even though a person does not perceive the spark of holiness in the sufferings, if he believes that G‑d is with him even there, he will eventually come to this realization.

With this, we can understand the verse "And Judah drew near to him."

The Baal Shem Tov reads Judah's words as not being addressed to Joseph, but to G‑d Himself. See Pri Tzadik, Vayigash, by Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, who explains that tzadikim often address their words to the Divine Presence, even when they are speaking to other human beings.

He praised the Holy One.

The name "Judah", in Hebrew "Yehuda", is from the Hebrew word "hodu", meaning to praise. As Leah said when he was born, "Now I will praise G‑d; therefore, she called his name Judah." (Gen. 29:35) And Jacob said, "Judah, your brothers will praise you." (ibid)

First, he said, "Oh my L-rd", because all affliction derives from this name.

The Hebrew reads, "Bi Adoni." The Baal Shem Tov sees this as alluding to G‑d's name Ado-nai, which represents the forces of concealment and strict judgment.

But when he drew near to Him and praised and exalted Him, the affliction was annulled.

I.e. Joseph revealed himself. Then, the very source of their problem - the evil viceroy of Egypt - turned out to be their beloved brother, whose intentions were only for their good.

(Translation and commentary by Eliezer Shore Toldot Yaakov Yosef, parashat Vayigash; Reprinted with permission from www.baalshemtov.org)