The Torah teaches us this week that we must always do the best we can to save others from embarrassment.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayechi” (Genesis 44:18–47:27) and with it we conclude our study of the book of Genesis. Among the stories in the reading is the death of Jacob. Shortly before his death we read that: “And one day Joseph was told ‘Behold your father is sick.’ He took his two sons with him, Menashe and Ephraim [to visit his dying father].” [Gen. 48:1]
So, Joseph hears that his elderly father is on his death bed and goes to see him, taking along his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. But wait a second: If someone of the stature of Jacob is dying, wouldn’t a son, of the stature of Joseph, know about it? Why does Joseph “need to be told” that his father is dying? Does ANY son need to be told from an outside source that his father is dying? What’s going on over here?
The commentators derive from here that Joseph did not visit his father frequently, and as such, he truly was not aware of his father’s condition. He had to be told that his father was dying.
So why would Joseph be avoiding his father all these years?
According to one theory, it was in order that his father would not be able to ask him how he ever ended up in Egypt! He didn’t want to have to rat on his bothers! As such, he kept away from his father.
While this might be hard to digest, there is a lesson here on saving others from embarrassment. Even after not seeing his father for 17 years followed by the emotional reunion that we read about in last week’s Torah portion, Joseph decided to keep a distance from his father lest it lead to embarrassing his brothers for throwing him into a pit and selling him into slavery.
But the question can also be asked: Is this a reason for son to keep away from his father…the father who mourned for over two decades believing that Joseph was dead? Here’s a better solution to Joseph’s quandary: LIE. Joseph could have made up a million different stories for how he wound up in Egypt: ran away, kidnapped, business trip, etc.
And indeed, it is often allowed to lie to keep the peace!
Among the many answers to this problem is that Joseph simply never lied in his life before this time and didn’t want to start now. Whether or not that is a good excuse, I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Perhaps it’s an extreme, but the lesson is clear: Always do the best you can to save others from embarrassment.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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