This week, I study thinking of all those – Jews and non-Jews – targeted for violence because of their faith, and pray for an end to such hatred.
This week, in Parasha Vayigash, we come to the final act in the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Last week Joseph, unknown to his brothers as the Viceroy of Egypt, told them they must bring the youngest, Benjamin, if they want to buy grain again. They brought Benjamin, and before leaving on the trip back to Canaan, Joseph had his servant hide his silver goblet in Benjamin’s saddle bags. Then Joseph had his servant pursue the brothers, accuse them of theft, and bring them back to Egypt.
Now, the goblet has been found in Benjamin’s possession, and as the parasha opens, Judah is pleading to let Benjamin go back to Canaan. Judah asks that he be kept as a prisoner instead of Benjamin, because if Benjamin does not return, it will break Jacob’s heart.
Joseph, overcome with emotion, dismisses everyone but his brothers from the chamber. He then cries out, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” His brothers are shocked in disbelief, then fear that the man they wanted to leave in a pit and allowed to be sold into slavery is now the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Joseph reassures his brothers, telling them not to be afraid. Recalling Pharaoh’s dream, he explains that there have been two years of famine, and the famine will continue for another five years. There was a purpose in their actions. “I am Joseph your brother – it is me, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, do not be distressed nor criticize yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that God sent me ahead of you.”
Joseph then introduces his brothers to Pharaoh, who invites them to live in Egypt, and to bring their father to live with them. Pharaoh gives them the land of Goshen, the most fertile area, where their sheep and cattle will thrive. Jacob comes to Egypt, has a warm reunion with the son he thought was dead, meets Pharaoh, and lives with his children and grandchildren in peace.
In learning of the completion of Joseph’s journey, we see a glimpse of other journeys the Children of Israel will take in their history. Two weeks ago, in Parasha Vayeishev, when we first learned of Joseph’s dreams, he interpreted them in terms of his own greatness: The sheaves of wheat representing his brothers bowing down to the sheaf of wheat representing him, and the heavenly bodies bowing down to him. When he is in prison in Egypt and the chamberlains of the cup bearers and the bakers seek his interpretation of their dreams, Joseph better understands the divine origin of dreams, and asks “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Now, as a great man and leader, Joseph realizes that his dreams and those of Pharaoh foretold plans that God had for the Jewish people.
As we study our ancient family history during the next several months, Be Prepared to see this pattern again. At first, the Children of Israel or their leaders do not recognize the spiritual nature of what they see. Later, they realize that what happens to them comes from God. Finally, they understand that their experiences occur for a holy purpose.
A special note: In following the weekly parasha over the next few months, we will learn of our ancestors’ sojourn in Egypt. We will find it was a land rich in many things, but not the spiritual values of Torah God wants us to live. Our people will be enslaved there, and it would be natural for us to be angry about that. The people, religion and culture of ancient Egypt are very different from those of modern Egypt. Torah tells us not to reject the Egyptian, because Egypt saved us from famine. (Deuteronomy 23:8) The Scout Law teaches us that a Scout is a “friend to all”. We must not be upset with people now for things that happened in their land 3,500 years ago.