This portion is one of the most dramatic in the entire Torah: the reunion of Joseph and his brothers, and later, Joseph and his father.
This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27). Allow me to share with you a good question that many of the commentators grapple with: After Joseph was thrown into a pit and later sold to Egypt by his brothers, Joseph eventually rose to become the Prime Minister of Egypt. All this time Joseph knew that is father had taken him for dead. Indeed, we are told that Joseph’s brothers came up with entire ruse after they sold him. They dipped his coat in goat’s blood (because it resembles human blood the most) and brought it to their father, Jacob. “Do you recognize this coat” they asked him. The rest is history.
Jacob’s mourning knew no bounds. And the question is: If Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt, essentially the #2 most powerful person in the world, why didn’t he write home to his father to let him know that he was alive and well!?! Why did Joseph “play along” and allow his father to mourn for him and to be so bitter for so many years?
One of the answers given to this question is a very powerful lesson in showing sensitivity to others. According to one approach, the reason Joseph didn’t write home is because he didn’t want to embarrass his brothers! Joseph was worried that if Jacob, his father, would discover that he was alive and well –and moreover- if he were to discover that all his other sons deceived him all these years, his father would become furious and the brothers would be embarrassed.
Can you imagine? Joseph was so concerned about the feelings of both his father and his brother that he hesitated to write home and inform his father the he was still alive! Make no mistake, Joseph surely wanted to see his father once more, and he was certainly going to do so – but at the right time. If you’ll recall, Joseph had a dream that one day his brothers would bow down before him. His dream just unfolded. The ball was rolling. Joseph knows that his prophecy came true and the other prophecies of the Jewish people were taking place as well: the famine in the land, the arrival to Egypt of brother Benjamin, and finally, the arrival of Jacob, and by extension the entire Jewish people, just like God told Abraham would happen. Joseph decided to wait and allow things to play out as they were Divinely intended to rather than interfere and change history.
This is the awesomeness of the Torah and the greatness of our forefathers. There are so many important moral and ethical lessons to be learned and, as we see, many are found in the most unexpected places. But one thing keeps repeating itself: proper care and concern for other people is the most important attribute that a person must have.
Joseph was truly a role model is being sensitive to others – one we must all try to emulate and incorporate into our daily lives. This is what living a Torah life is all about…
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel