Torah Portion: Vayigash (And He Came) B’resheet (Genesis) 44-47
Haftorah Reading: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Tonight we read of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers after 22 years. This is also a fulfillment of G-d’s word to Avraham in Genesis 15:13-14 where He tells him that his descendents would be slaves in a strange land but He, G-d, would bring them out with great possessions. So here we see the beginning of that word from the L-rd. This time in Egypt was foretold to the patriarchs and was possibly passed down to Jacob by his father and grandfather. Evidently G-d saw these years of testing as necessary before the Jewish people could become who G-d planned them to be from the beginning.
We have talked over the last couple of weeks about all the things that Joseph passed through in those 22 years. Joseph was sold into captivity by his brothers, he was falsely accused of assaulting his master’s wife, forgotten in prison, rose to power in Egypt and here confronted the people responsible for all those times of suffering. What would he do? How would he react? How would you react?
When difficult times or unfair things come into our lives we have choices to make. There may be more than one way to interpret what has happened. In every case we can choose how we react and how we interpret the event. The way we look at life, the way we think shapes how we feel. As we look at Joseph’s life we see these play out. He was able to see the negative events of his life in a different way, freeing him from feeling helpless and victimized or depressed. In this portion we see Joseph reveal himself to his brothers. His ability to choose to not react negatively to them was hard for his brothers to grasp. I would like us all, as we face the trials of life, to ask ourselves, “What does this difficult experience enable me to do that I could not have done otherwise, or what do I need to learn to enable me to grow spiritually because of this experience.” This can transform us and our ability to deal with trying times that come into our lives.
Joseph’s ability to do this reframing shows itself clearly in how he dealt with his brothers in last week’s portion and this week’s scripture. Let us read Genesis 45:4-8. This is the first recorded moment in history where one human being forgives another. Did G-d forgive Adam and Eve or Cain? Did Avraham ask G-d to forgive the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? No, he mitigated what they had done. He marked Cain, removed Adam and Eve from the garden and introduced them to toiling the earth and painful childbirth but the word “forgive” is not used until we get to this scripture concerning Joseph and his brothers.
Next we read in Genesis 50:16-18 where this whole concept of forgiveness was still hard to grasp. Joseph was brought to tears because his brothers still did not grasp the process. Until this time all the cultures of the world operated under the concept of appeasement. When you did harm to another person you compensated them or their family in some way. You can even read of this in the Torah laws. If the wronged person accepted the offer, their dignity was restored but forgiveness did not enter into it.
Here in our portion we see the culmination of a process of repentance that began last week and ends here. That process of repentance then merits forgiveness and the act is washed away. The person is restored.
In Genesis 42:21-23 the first steps were taken by the brothers, they admitted their sin. They admitted doing wrong. In Genesis 44:16 they confessed their guilt, “G-d has laid bare our guilt.” They all took their share of what they had done. Lastly in Genesis 42:33 we read, led by Judah, they demonstrated that they had changed. Judah, instigator of the plan to sell Joseph years before, now offered to give himself for his brother Benjamin. So, lastly they show they are not the same people as before. They had changed, they were different people. Remind you of anything? This is still how we come to the L-rd and ask for forgiveness. Confession and forgiveness must result in a change in our lives. We are not that old person we once were but we are different. Bless G-d that He accepts our confessions and our actions show we are not the same and we are forgiven.