Parashat Vayigash

Friday, December 22, 2017 /4 Tevet, 5778
Parashat Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:27
Dear Friends,
The Torah portion this week, called Vayigash, continues the Joseph narrative and contains the dramatic scene when Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt, reveals his true identity to his brothers.  They had come to Egypt hoping to procure food during the extended famine and when they approached the person in charge, they did not recognize that this powerful, Egyptian looking man was their brother.  However, Joseph recognized them.
Parashat Vayigash begins with Judah imploring Joseph to free the now imprisoned Benjamin and substitute himself, Judah, in his place.  Judah tells Joseph many times how much Benjamin’s capture would devastate their father, Jacob.  Judah refers to their father fourteen times hoping to elicit empathy from an unmoved and still hidden Joseph.  Eventually Joseph breaks. He sends all of his attendants out of the room and then reveals himself to his brothers:  “I am Joseph. Is my father well?”  His brothers are dumbfounded.  Joseph recognized that had he had kept Benjamin in Egypt it would have devastated, even killed his father, who had already lost his first favored son, Joseph.
More importantly, Joseph realizes how much his brothers changed. Especially Judah.  A generation ago, Judah and his brothers sold Joseph into slavery and then tricked their father into believing that Joseph had been devoured by a beast. Today, Judah is willing to sacrifice himself for his half-brother, Benjamin, whom Judah realizes and accepts is Jacob’s current favorite son.
Rabbi Norman Cohen observes, “Perhaps this episode can serve as an affirmation and a paradigm of our own ability to change.” (Self, Struggle and Change, p. 180).
We change over time. We are no longer the same person we once were when growing up in our childhood home.  If we have siblings, in many cases, our relationships have matured as we have transcended our childhood and childish behaviors with our siblings. Unfortunately, deep pain or even estrangement continues well into adulthood in some families.
We hope that the less-than-honorable behaviors that marked our childhood are replaced by growing maturity, love and respect. This is what Judah and his brothers experienced.  As did Joseph.  So much so that he refuses to blame his brothers for the pain and suffering their callousness and deception caused him, and their father many years earlier. Instead Joseph credits God for all of his achievements. It was a remarkable way for him to reframe his past.  In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “[Joseph] freed himself from an emotional prison, namely resentment towards his brothers.  He now saw his life not in terms of a family drama or sibling rivalry, but as part of a larger movement of history as shaped by Divine providence.” (Covenant and Conversation; Vayigash 5778)
Parashat Vayigash teaches us that change is possible. As we reflect on this portion, consider difficult experiences that have marked your life and instead of letting them define you, allow them to transform you, enabling you to find blessing and possibility through challenging times.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Chuck Briskin