Yom Shlishi, 16 Iyyar 5779
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Parashat Vayigash 2012

Vayigash by Rabbi Tatsiana Sakhnovich
21st December 2012

Parashah “Vayigash” – “and he went over” – starts with the account of Judah offering himself as a slave to Joseph in place of his brother Benjamin. For Judah it would mean spending the rest of his life in a foreign country in slavery, alone, without family and children, not knowing how they were faring in the land of Canaan. Just as his brother Joseph had done.

Joseph in his time was the victim of his brothers’ actions. He had no choice. Judah makes his offer willingly. Why?· Because - Judah explains humbly to Joseph – his father had two sons by his beloved wife Rachel. One had died; if the younger one Benjamin does not return to their father Jacob, it will kill him. Judah does not want to see his father dying from grief over Benjamin: “And now, when I come to your servant, my father, and the boy isn’t with us, and he’s bound to him soul to soul, it will be, when he sees that the boy isn’t there, that he will die” (Genesis 44:30-31).

Judah also takes responsibility for the promise he had made to his father. Judah, himself, told his father that if he did not bring Benjamin back, then he “will have sinned against [his] father for all time” (Gen. 44:32).

As soon as Judah had finished speaking, Joseph burst into tears. He could restrain himself no more. Joseph sent all the others, his officials, away and made himself known to his brothers.

Why did Joseph feel so emotional and ready for reconciliation at that very moment? Is it because he saw a different Judah from the one he remembered from his childhood? No longer the ruthless man, who saved Joseph’s life by making money from selling him into slavery.

Only in last week’s Parashah Miketz the brothers came to buy food from Joseph.·They bowed down to their noses to him and did not recognize him, the Hebrew text says. But Joseph, he instantly recognized his brothers.· For how long had he not seen them? Years and years – decades. The life of his youth, with his family, by then probably seemed like a dream to him…But he recognized his brothers instantly.

What feelings, what memories, did that moment bring to him? What did he feel, this powerful man, seeing his brothers from his spoilt, arrogant youth, his betrayed past, which he probably wanted to forget? Pain, humiliation, joy at the opportunity of revenge - hatred, self-pity?· Joseph spoke to his brothers in hard tones. He accused them of spying. He played hell with them. His wound was still deep and bleeding after all those years.

Can we judge Joseph? Perhaps not.

Is it possible for a person to forgive a loved one who has betrayed them? Or a murderer of their family members? On an altogether different scale, can the parents of the twenty children from the Connecticut primary school ever forgive the murderer of their children?!

In these instances, to paraphrase Philip Larkin who once remarked: “It is very much easier to imagine happiness than to experience it.” – It is very much easier to imagine forgiveness than to experience it.

In our Parashah, however, we are treated to a powerful and emotional happy ending. In this dramatic encounter, we need to give credit both to Joseph and to his brothers, to Judah in particular. The brothers had learnt from their past experience. They were now determined to protect their youngest brother and their father even at the risk of their own lives, as Judah had shown by his courageous words to Joseph at the start of the Parasha. The brothers stood up for Benjamin, they pleaded for him.

What a contrast to their conduct towards Joseph!

Seeing his brothers in a new light, with their own scars, enabled Joseph to reconcile himself to them and to forgive. When he opened himself to his brothers and cried perhaps it was one of the happiest moments of his life and of his brothers’ lives too. We all experience events in our lives when we find it difficult to forgive people who hurt us.· May we also experience the happiness of reconciliation, which Joseph and his brothers once enjoyed and the release, which it brings.