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Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

“God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth,
and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7)

Parashat Vayigash describes the culmination of Joseph’s extended manipulation of his brothers. Judah begs Joseph to take him as a slave instead of Benjamin for stealing Joseph’s silver goblet. Joseph can no longer control himself and reveals himself to his stunned brothers.

Commentators wonder why Joseph tortures his brothers emotionally. Isaac ben Moses Arama (~1420 – 1494; Spanish rabbi and author) says Joseph is recreating history (a brother bound for slavery) to see if they make a better choice this time. This offers the brothers the chance to demonstrate t’shuvah, or repentance. Alternately, Isaac ben Judah Abravanel (1437-1508; Portuguese scholar, diplomat, financier, mystic and communal leader) says Joseph is simply being human and is indulging his desire for revenge and payback. So, which is it?

Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) offers a third interpretation. Joseph knows there are three issues in play: his perception of his brothers, his brothers’ perception of him, and the brothers’ perception of one another. Each of those must change if the family dynamic is to be reset and a true reconciliation is to take effect; one or two out of three isn’t going to be enough.

Joseph’s recognition of his contribution to the situation and his interest in his own self-growth (in addition to his brothers’) sets the stage for the forgiveness that reconciliation requires. This is why Joseph and his brothers, unlike the other squabbling siblings in Genesis, overcome their past conflicts and actually live together in peace.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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