December 26/27, 2020
The portion of the Torah which we read earlier today "WaYigash", is about the final confrontation, the reconciliation, and the reunion, between Joseph and his brothers. Judah/Yehuda approached Joseph/Yosef, still not knowing that it is his long lost brother. He only knows that this man, Joseph, is the vizier, second to the throne, in Egypt, a most powerful man. Judah makes his final and most daring and brave appeal for the release of his youngest brother, Benjamin.
When Joseph is convinced that his brothers have indeed changed, and now they place the welfare and happiness of their father above all is, to the point that Judah is willing to offer himself as a slave to the vizier in exchange for his younger brother's relief, and to avoid causing his elderly father any more emotional turmoil, Joseph knows it is time for him to come clean and reveal who is truly is. "And Joseph said to his brothers, I am Joseph." (Genesis, Chapter 45, verse 3) but the immediate continuation is..."Does my father yet live?"
Joseph has been pained all these years but the abrupt separation from his beloved father. His very first question, without missing a beat, is Does my father still live?? I need to know immediately, is my father still alive. When reading the Hebrew verse I feel the intensity of this question, the immediacy of this question, like an impatient child who cannot wait. Before he even waits for his brothers to digest the fact that Egyptian vizier is in fact their very own brother, before he lets them settle down, he must ask Does my father still live?
Sitting in synagogue this morning I felt as if I were there in person, watching this scene unfold. We read the same exact story every year, and it is always very emotional, but this year I felt it more powerfully. The pain, the yearning...
Joseph continues to calm his brothers, and show that he holds no anger or resentment towards them. As soon as he has mollified them, he continues, "Hurry and go up to my father", bring him here!!
Joseph is now speaking to them in Hebrew, their own language, rather than Egyptian. As he says to them, "Your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that there is no interpreter, but I speak to you directly in the Hebrew language." (Verse 12, using the Biblical commentators to amplify the text)
The brothers are pacified and are ready to go back to the land of Canaan and tell their father of their incredible odyssey. The Biblical text is rather terse, "Joseph is still alive and he rules over the entire land of Egypt."(Chapter 45, Verse 26)
Just like that, short and to the point. Guess what? Not only is your beloved son alive but he has miraculously become the top man in Egypt. Naturally Jacob is stunned. His reaction is described by the Hebrew word yafeg which is difficult to understand. It appears that it would mean, his heart skipped a beat. The shock was so great, his heart stopped beating for a moment.
When he saw the incredible gifts sent, he realized it must be true. It was a famine, and yet the sons turned up with wagons full of the best of the land. Some interpretations say that the brothers gave him a sign, the last discussion that took place between Joseph and Jacob before they were separated. Jacob was finally convinced. The rabbis also say the wagons have great symbolic value. The work wagon in Hebrew, agalah comes from the word wheel which means round. The hint was the life is a cycle; things can turn around, good becomes bad and then bad can become good.
Now let us think for a moment, beyond the text. I was sitting in our little synagogue bursting with emotion. Jacob, suffering for some long, it has been more than twenty years since he last saw his beloved son Joseph, the son of his one true love, Rahel, the woman he adored. He was never fully convinced that his son was dead.
I understand this feeling. I worked with some of the families of the Israeli soldiers missing in action. I spoke to them, but some refused to speak. Those who spoke made a profound impression on me. The Feldman family spoke of their son Zvika, named for a father who was murdered in the Holocaust. in fact his father Abraham had lost his entire family in Europe to the Nazis murder machine. In Israel he hoped for a new life. His son went missing in action. I recalled him showing me his son's room, and then saying, "We leave the sliding door to the balcony unlocked every night, because we know that sometimes Zvika comes home late at night and does not wish to disturb us."
Yes, that is what he said, he was always hoping that some day, quite naturally, his son would just come in late at night, as if he was returning from a night out with friends.
The family of Yehuda Katz; his father Yosef gave me a copy of the book he wrote about his endless efforts to find his son, a search all over the world. Yosef was a Holocaust survivor who also lost his entire family to the Nazis. He too named his son for his murdered father. He gave me a copy of the work, inscribed it as one Katz to another, and said to me, "I am old now, but some day my son will come home, and I want him to have this book so that he will now that mother and father never rested for a moment, we never gave up the hope to find him."
The pain of a parent over a missing child, Jacob felt this pain for more than twenty years, and then the unbelievable happened. A dream came true, beyond his wildest dream, "we were as dreamers" (Psalms)
"And Israel said to Joseph, I can die now after I have seen your face ,because you are still alive."(Genesis, Chapter 46, Verse 30) i.e. I can die with no regrets, without pain, for I am comforted that I have seen your face, that my son is alive and well.
I sat in the synagogue and my body shivered, I felt as if it were all happened right now. Why joy! Father and son reunion. A family reunited with love and forgiveness!
Jacob, suffered for so long, but in his heart, the love, the hope, never faded, never died, never weakened, and then, beyond is wildest dreams, Od Yosef Chai! Yet Joseph Lives.
Dreams can come true. Happiness and joy, beyond our wildest dreams.
Shavua Tov, Have a good week everyone.