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This portion contains the next instalment of the Joseph story. Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers. The men are instructed to bring their father and their households to reside in the region of Goshen in the land of Egypt.

Another voice

Vayigash by Jason Demant :: 5768

Jason Demant received semichah from Yeshivat Hamivtar (Brovenders) and from Rabbi Zalman Nehemiah Goldberg. He is currently carrying out research on the thought of Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z"l. Jason teaches children with special needs and a Talmud class for women at LSJS and is also a regular teacher of Torah L'Am.

In Genesis Chapter 45 we read the following: 4. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5. But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you. 7. And God sent me before you to make for you a remnant in the land, and to preserve [it] for you for a great deliverance. 8. And now, you did not send me here, but G-d, and He made me a father to Pharaoh, a lord over all his household, and a ruler over the entire land of Egypt...

Could you image a more amazing scene? Joseph is confronted by his brothers, the very men who sold him as a slave and wished him dead. Yet now he is no longer that young lad, sold for just twenty pieces of silver, but rather a great ruler; a man of power and dignity. Let us imagine the emotions he might at this moment be feeling towards them. Surely all the betrayal and rejection he must have felt over the years would be simmering in his heart. Imagine the anger Joseph would have felt for his so called loving family, a family who showed no care for him, yet are now begging him to save them from starvation.

Joseph can take it no longer, the tears burst forth and he reveals his true identity to his family. Yet, we look at the verses and wonder where exactly all the anger has gone? Where are the recriminations? Joseph, surprisingly, not only shows no anger about their terrible crime against him but seems to deny any real guilt at all. Why should that be so?

The late Nehamah Leibowitz pointed out how Joseph changes his verbs around! At first Joseph refers to the incident as a "sale": "I am Joseph, whom you SOLD into Egypt", yet later on he changes the verb to SEND. Joseph starts by telling the story from the brother's perspective but really attributes the whole incident to the hand of G-d.

Is Joseph giving a naïve reading of the events and letting his brothers off the hook? Perhaps he is. One though, might suggest that even though Joseph really does recognize their sin as real, his greatness lies in his ability to see the deeper meaning of the events and G-d's active role in the narrative of history.

Joseph understood that reality comes in many layers and those layers, whilst all being true, can sometimes seem to contradict each other. Yes, his brothers were guilty of a terrible crime and indeed a court on earth should still punish them. However that is the truth as it is understood here on earth. Yet all the events we experience also exist in other realities too. In a higher reality to our own, on the plane of the Divine, Joseph understood that he HAD to have been sold for G-d to look after his family. G-d did not force the brothers to sell Joseph, yet somehow the sale was indeed instrumental for the correct playing out of events.

Throughout our encounters with Joseph, he shows his profound ability to sense the deeper, inner, hidden meaning to events; be they dreams or the tribulations of his own life.

Joseph possessed what we call Mazal, luck or good fortune. The Hebrew word Mazel (מזל- Mem Zayin Lamed) can be understand as follows: The Mem represents the Hebrew word for "place" and Zayin for the Hebrew word for "time". Many people find themselves in the right place at the right time, but the real trick is to have the eyes to see the opportunity at hand. Thus the Lamed of Mazel means, LeDaat, "to know". To realize and know that G-d has arranged the events here on earth to happen to you at exactly the right time and place, is to see the opportunity G-d has given you. Such a person knows how to see G-d's hand in their everyday life, and like Joseph, indeed possess insight and Mazel.


More by Jason Demant

Another voice by Daniel Reisel

Daniel is a junior doctor working in London. A past programming co-chair of Limmud Conference and Limmud Fest, he currently chairs the board of Yachad.

What does it mean to be a Jewish hero? One such hero was Janusz Korczak, the Polish-Jewish doctor and educator who established an innovative orphanage in Warsaw before the war. As the German army advanced on Warsaw, the orphanage was moved into the ghetto. Korczak continued his work under ever more exasperating circumstances. There were plenty of opportunities for him to walk away and save himself, but he resolved to stay with the children. When the deportation order came on 6 August 1942, Janusz Korczak assembled the children in rows of four. Korczak himself walked at the head of the procession, a child in each hand. Six days later, on 12 August 1942, Janusz Korczak was killed in Treblinka together with the 192 children of his orphanage.

There is a link between Janusz Korczak and the Yehudah we encounter in this week's parasha. When faced with the prospect of Benjamin's imprisonment, Yehudah steps forward and offers himself in Benjamin's place. "Take me instead", he says. This selfless act is what finally causes Joseph to break down. "I am Joseph", he cries out and the course of Jewish history was changed forever. Who knows what would have happened had Yehudah not risen to the challenge, if he had taken the opportunity to walk away and save himself. Yehudah acted to save only one child, but his actions had lasting consequences. Janusz Korczak acted to save the lives of hundreds of children and, although his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, his heroism reverberates to this day.


More by Daniel Reisel

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