- Judah pleads with Joseph to free Benjamin and offers himself as a replacement. (44:18-34)
- Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery. (45:1-15)
- Although the famine still rages, Pharaoh invites Joseph's family to "live off the fat of the land." (45:16-24)
- Jacob learns that Joseph is still alive and, with God's blessing, goes to Egypt. (45:25-46:33)
- Pharaoh permits Joseph's family to settle in Goshen. Pharaoh then meets with Jacob. (47:1-12)
- With the famine increasing, Joseph designs a plan for the Egyptians to trade their livestock and land for food. The Israelites thrive in Egypt. (47:13-27)
by Erika Schwartz
This Torah portion deals with how Joseph treats his brothers after he reveals himself to them. To fully understand the ramifications of how he chooses to behave towards them, we must first revisit a little of the family history.
In Genesis 37:28 we learned that Joseph’s brother sold Joseph to passing Midianite traders for twenty pieces of silver. Why? Because Joseph was favored by his father and so the brothers were jealous.
By any standards, this was a cruel and treacherous act. Not only had they sold their brother into slavery but they covered it up by dipping his tunic in blood and presenting it to their father who, of course, came to the conclusion that his beloved son had been torn to shreds by a wild beast.
As years passed, the brothers could only imagine that Joseph was either dead or living a brutal life. They had no way of knowing that, in fact, Joseph eventually fared very well in Egypt. Because of his ability to interpret dreams, he had become a favorite of the Pharoah and eventually was second in Egypt only to the Pharoah. Joseph’s power and influence were unequalled.
When, during the famine, Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt in an attempt to purchase grain, he (Joseph) recognized them.
So, let’s pause here for a moment.
Putting yourself in Joseph’s shoes, how would you react to the sudden realization that the very brothers who sold you into slavery were now begging you to sell them grain so that they and their families wouldn’t starve? What a super opportunity for revenge! There aren’t too many people that I’ve known who wouldn’t hold a lifetime grudge if their siblings had sold them into slavery. I suspect that, if they suddenly found themselves in a position of unlimited power, the first thing they’d do is take out a contract on said siblings.
But Joseph has other plans. Without revealing who he is, he sells them the grain but returns their money in the sacks of grain. He accuses them of being spies, thereby giving him the perfect opportunity to extract information from them about their father and his brother, Benjamin.
Which then brings us to the current Torah portion, Va-Yiggash, in which Joseph reveals to his siblings that he is the brother they sold into slavery. Not only does he reveal himself to his brothers but, almost in the same breath, he tells them:
“. . .do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that G-d sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. G-d has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but G-d.”
So, what has Joseph done? He’s taken a moment in which he could have exacted brutal revenge on the siblings who sold him into slavery, and turned it into an awareness that G-d does have a plan . . . an awareness that, from some of the most awful situations can perhaps come a realization that good has come from it.
Notice that I said “can perhaps come a realization”. That’s because not all terrible situations turn into blessings in disguise. That’s an absolute given! But many do and most of us don’t even stop to think about that.
When something terrible happens to us, whether it’s by someone else’s design or by fate, we cling to the anger or the resentment or the depression for life. How many of us are still talking endlessly about our awful childhood or the terrible thing a friend or sibling did to us decades ago?
Or, even worse, how many of us get angry over the most trivial things? I know two brothers who didn’t talk to each other for two years because one brother got angry at the other over an annoyingly noisy contraption that one of the brothers was playing with. Really???
But, let’s get back to deliberate (or seemingly deliberate) acts of cruelty or meanness. Or even acts of G-d that shred our souls. Have we ever bothered to look back at these awful situations and consider that, had we not gone through the pain of those situations, we wouldn’t have particular blessings in our life today.
I just had a realization . . . . I’ve come full circle to the theme that was at the core of the last D’var Torah that I wrote and, when I began writing this, I had no intention of going in this direction. But here I am again, reminding myself that sometimes our darkest pain can be the cause of our greatest joy later in life. I promise I’ll try to go in a different direction next time.
Joseph attributed his enslavement in Egypt to the plan that G-d had to save Egypt and Joseph’s own family from the terrible famine to come. He had no anger or resentment toward his brothers because he saw their act of selling him to the Midianites as having been orchestrated by the hand of G-d. By the same token, it took me 40 years to realize that the very difficult life I had led from the day of my very birth eventually forged a sense of love and gratitude for the life I have today. Would I live in such love and gratitude if my early years had been a bed of roses? I seriously doubt it. So all the pain was definitely worth the outcome.
All we have to do is allow ourselves to see the silver lining. But we have to be willing to look for it.