VaYigash 5777 January 7, 2017

D'var Torah

So profound was the grief of father Jacob for his beloved son Joseph, the Torah tells us that Jacob could not be comforted when first informed of Joseph’s “death.”  Jacob preferred death to life without Joseph.  He agonized over the catastrophe that tore Joseph from his side.  How tremendous, then, was the feeling of exalted relief when his other sons inform Jacob that “Joseph still lives!”  Any addendum to the happy news would seem unnecessary yet the brothers add “…and he is master of all of Egypt” (Genesis 45:26).  Readers may rightfully question what purpose this addendum serves.

At first, the news that Joseph was alive was all that mattered to Jacob.  But upon reflection, Jacob would want to know more.  What of the character of this impressionable teenager thrust into a foreign environment?  How has he managed to cope?  Has he remained loyal to his heritage or has he become assimilated?  There are many a Joseph who are removed from their Jewish families and traditions who can be said to be physically alive yet Jewishly dead.  Was Joseph among them?  To these concerns, the brothers blurt out in anticipation that Joseph is master over all Egypt, from which Jacob could insinuate that Egypt is not master over Joseph.  Joseph had successfully resisted the pressures of assimilation and retained his Jewish identity.

More subtle but equally telling is the inclusion of the word “all” in the brothers’ description of Joseph’s condition.  Joseph’s victory was complete.  There was no aspect of Egyptian culture to which Joseph had succumbed.

The Midrash Tanhuma states that all that befell Joseph befell Israel.  Joseph’s life was largely representative of later Jewish history.  There have been and will be many “Josephs” with their handsome appearances, promising futures, spoiling parents, and faraway dreams who strayed from the tent of Israel.  But there will be many more who like the original Joseph will remain loyal.  All that is required is to master one’s circumstances rather than allow circumstances to rule over them.  The prophet Zekhariah thus predicts (10:6) the redemption of the House of Joseph, the people Israel who have lived up to the character of their namesake.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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