Yom Rivii, 21 Tammuz 5779
Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Parashat Vaychi 2013

Parashat Vaychi
Rabbi Aaron Goldstein

13 December 2013

“And when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph bears a grudge against us.’” (Genesis 50:15).

A midrash (Genesis Rabbah 100:8) elaborates on this verse:

What did they see that made them afraid? As they were returning from burying their father, they saw Joseph turned off the road and went to look at the pit into which his brothers had cast him. Upon seeing this, they said, “He still bears a grudge in his heart. Now that our father is dead, he will make his hatred of us felt.” But in fact Joseph’s motive was a pious one – he wanted to utter a blessing for the miracle wrought for him in that place.

So may it be for the undisputed patriarch of the modern South Africa. Nelson Mandela, not a saint but an incredible politician with the highest moral ideals for his country, whose statue in Parliament Square, Westminster, is as appropriate as the only other foreign statesman, Abraham Lincoln.

The tensions from the past are still palpable in South Africa just as they were for Joseph’s brothers. Joseph’s ability to reconcile the actions of his brothers in the past with his new found (once dreamt about) power over them, the Torah and the Rabbis tell us is due to his belief in God’s pre-destining the events of their lives. It would be all too easy to imagine oppressed black South Africans perceiving Mandela as a gift from God.

A vital element that insured a largely peaceful transition to a full and free democracy gift was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was largely successful despite some flaws as it allowed the truth to be told by the victims and perpetrators. Whilst it was only Jacob who addressed his children in his final testament, each one heard the truth as their father (or more realistically, history) saw them. Hearing the truth, warts and all, was such a vital part of the brothers being reconciled to each other and with Joseph. All was laid bare so that they all knew with whom they were dealing and how to approach them, their strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps we all need a truth an reconciliation moment with those we love most to maintain our most treasured relationships, just as South Africa needs to self-reflect after the death of such a stabilising force.