Torah Portion: Vayigash (And He Approached) B’Resheet (Gen.) 44-47
HafTorah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
This week we read the Torah portion that covers the reunion of Joseph and his brothers and their settling in Egypt. In Genesis 46:1 we read the account of Ya’acov’s vision when G-d called him and Ya’acov used the familiar phrase, “Here am I.” This is the third time G-d appeared to him. Like the first time, this vision occurred as Ya’acov was about to leave the Land. (chapter 29) The other vision happened when he returned to the Land in chapter 32 of Genesis. Here in our verses today we see Ya’acov near the end of his days.
However, tonight I want us to look at something I am sure we all struggle with in our lives. I know for me this is an issue that can be difficult to deal with. That issue is forgiveness and how to let go of hurts we all carry. I want us to look here in our verses to see the example Joseph gives us. He was a man who had many things occur in his life at the hands of others. If we look back over his life we see he was hated by his brothers. They threw him into a pit and then sat down to eat. His clothes were taken from him, he was alone and hungry as his brothers sat eating and drinking and plotting what to do with him. They sold him into slavery to passing traders. The traders sold him to a rich man in Egypt. While in Egypt Joseph rose to the place of being in charge of the man’s estate. However, the wife of this man tried to seduce Joseph and when that failed she falsely accused him of trying to assault her. He was then thrown in prison where again he rose to become a trusted prisoner. Due to his gift for interpreting dreams he was eventually set free and brought to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. He was then given great authority, second to Pharaoh. During the famine that was foretold by the dreams of Pharaoh Joseph met his brothers again after over 20 years.
Remember, Joseph held his brothers lives in his hands. How would we react to someone who really was the source of a lot of our hurts and troubles, our fears or disappointments?
Let’s look at how he reacted. In Genesis 45:4-8 we read of his reaction. This is the first picture we have in scripture of forgiveness. There may have been times before but this is the first one recorded in scripture. Did G-d forgive Adam or Eve, or Cain after he murdered his brother? He mitigated their sentence. Adam and Eve did not immediately die and Cain bore a mark on his head. When Avraham prayed for the people of Sodom he did not ask for forgiveness but relied on the merit of righteous men to save them.
In fact, in Genesis 50:16-18 (next week’s Torah portion) we read the very first time the word “forgive” is used in scripture. There, Joseph’s brothers came to him to see if he really meant it when he said he forgave them. Even in other cultures of the day forgiveness was a foreign concept. There was “appeasement of anger” where someone who had wronged a person offered to perform some act that would calm the person who had been wronged.
Here in our verses we read how the brothers repented of their sin, first by recognizing what they had done for the first time. (Genesis 42:21-23) They confessed, they admitted their responsibility (Genesis 44:16) and finally at the end Judah showed their repentance was genuine by offering himself in place of Benjamin. They had changed.
Joseph forgave them. He explained that G-d was involved. G-d used what had happened to him to save them when the famine came upon them. G-d was the conductor. He realized that whatever they had done to him the impact of their actions was used by G-d to form his life. G-d used these circumstances to make him who he was and for him to be in the right place at the right time. Because of this view, he was able to frame the events of his life as allowed by G-d for his good and he could forgive them without holding on to anger or hurt toward his brothers.
In our own faith experience G-d, through the Messiah, gives us an example like Joseph. Even in His death Yeshua asked G-d to forgive the people involved for they did not understand what they were doing. I believe people that harm us do not realize the hurt they are causing. They feel justified in what they are doing or saying. They may even think they are doing the right thing. Parents who hurt their children usually are acting out what happened to them as children. If we are to live in peace with our Heavenly Father we must come to the point of forgiveness. G-d loves us and wants us to rise above our hurts, not only rise above but to be better able to deal with life and others because of our peace which is found in forgiveness.