14 Tevet 5783
Speaking to the Heart
To hear the recorded message: https://youtu.be/kkKH-uxZoi4
In Parashat Vayechi, we read the epilogue of the life of Yaakov, Yosef and of Bereshit (Genesis). As I was reading this week’s portion, I noticed that Bereshit begins by turning chaos (Tohu V’vohu) and into order (Tikkun). Where there is order, life flourishes, there is creation, proliferation. With chaos comes death, anguish, and pain.
We read in Bereshit 48:1 about the consequences of disorder in the life of man, where illness is recorded for the first time in the Torah as a source of death. The Mishna, in Bava Metzia 87a, states that the result of the chaos generated by Adam in the Garden of Eden translates into the death of every living being, the disconnection of man from his Creator, bringing problems within social and family relationships. This specific case led Yosef to be hated and sold by his brothers, to live in slavery for 17 years until he was reunited with them in a bittersweet moment that we read about in Miketz.
We see the importance of leaving inheritance to children while they are alive and giving them a blessing before leaving, just as Yaakov did. But the inheritance is not about leaving money or possessions which are assets; the inheritance is to leave a blessing in them so that they could enjoy a full life.
I also observed that there are no perfect families, like in fairy tales, with their “and they lived happily ever after”. In real life, we have ups and downs, easy moments, and difficult moments, when we laugh or cry, when we are healthy or sick. Despite each circumstance, it is important to recognize our humanity and fragility, but above all to believe that man can rectify himself and that all is not lost, even if we feel disconnected from spiritual life.
Following these ideas, I’d like to raise certain points gleaned from this portion; first, the blessing is birthed from “order”. Yaakov could not have transcended to become Israel, forever in this physical world without his children having been reunited. He needed order to come to his family, the broken relationships engendered by envy and pride to be repaired. We see when Yosef was discovered and his children were gathered together again, how Yaakov was revived, and they once again could get on with the forming of the potential nation.
Second, the restoration of fraternity between brothers is reflected in the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, which is a calling to the common good and not the individual. Here are the first brothers that the Torah does not report having any problem that generates dysfunction, as in previous examples of Cain-Abel, Isaac-Ishmael, Yaakov-Esau, Leah-Rachel, and Yosef and his brothers.
Third, how necessary it was for Israel as a nation to be gestated in a narrow womb called Mitzraim (Egypt)! The Torah teaches us that Israel and his children descended into Egypt. When they went to the land of Israel, the Torah writes that they ascended or went up to the Promised Land. We must also be thankful that we sometimes have to descend consciously or unconsciously before we can grow.
However, as I went deeper into Bereshit 50:14-21, where the death of Yaakov is narrated, the brothers ascend to Israel to bury him, and then upon returning to Egypt, his brothers feared for their lives. So would we if we were in their shoes. Taking revenge in Yosef’s position as second in command in Egypt, would not have been a big deal in Pharaoh’s court, after all, murders between royal relatives were common in their lust for power. The brothers didn’t trust Yosef to show mercy, now that their father was no longer there to stand in the gap for them. Doesn’t Job 3:25 say “For what I fear comes upon me, and what terrifies me happens to me” or Mishlei (Proverbs) 10:24 “What the wicked fears shall come upon him, and the desire of the righteous shall be granted”. Were his brothers fearful or were they wicked?
This fear was born from a problem: Communication. In fact, they didn’t even appear before Yosef as we read in 50:15 “And they sent word to Joseph: Your father ordered before his death, saying…” Why didn’t they go in person to Yosef but rather preferred to hide or run away? Isn’t that how Adam acted? Why did they say, “our father ordered”? Why lie out of fear? It is very clear that Yosef did not believe this lie, because it really hurt him, so much so that he began to cry but then he acted with wisdom: he confronted them.
Let’s imagine this scene: the brothers appeared before Yosef as victims by saying: “we are your servants.”Yosef had lost his brothers for 17 years and it was clear that he didn’t want to lose them again, especially when he had plenty of servants in Egypt. Also, Yosef never answered them with “I forgive you”, as they asked him to do. Why? Because only God forgives, what we do is make Tikkun, we repair, we reestablish relations, the natural order having been lost.
Yosef’s response was clear: “Am I in the place of God?” (50:19). Perhaps that’s why the Perushim, the Pharisees in Matthew 9:3 called Yeshua a blasphemer for saying to a paralytic “your sins are forgiven.” What was he saying?
It was clear that this expression did not come from Yosef, since we read earlier in Bereshit 30:2, Yaakov said to Yosef’s mother: “Am I in the place of God?” We must understand that each has his responsibility and authority brought by the Eternal. Yosef realized that the warnings received in the dreams of his youth had been fulfilled, and that all his suffering had been part of a Divine plan (50:20-21).
But when was the relationship with his brothers restored? One tends to think that it was when he revealed himself to them after which they went down with Yaakov to Egypt, but really the relationship was restored when 50:21, we read: “Thus he comforted them, speaking to their hearts.”
Megillah 16b says: “Following Jacob’s death, it states concerning Joseph: ‘And his brothers even went and fell down before him’ (Genesis 50:18). Rabbi Binyamin bar Yefet said that Rabbi Elazar said: This explains the folktale that people say: When the fox is in its hour, bow down to it, i.e., if a fox is appointed king, one must bow down before and submit oneself to it.”
By delving into what it means to speak to the heart, psychology and life-coaching are only now talking about this type of communication, while the Torah knew about it 3000 years ago! Experts say that it is structured communication that allows those who make up this communication, to listen and understand each other in a deep way, characterized by being confidential and focused upon feelings, speaking openly, and listening without prejudice. This applies to what Stephen Covey said, “The relationship must be transformational, not transactional” and Bernard Shaw said that “The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.
Up to this moment, none of the brothers had spoken about this thorny and painful issue for both parties. We might think that only Yosef suffered, but didn’t they all suffer? We see a Judah who was almost expelled from his home, a Benjamin deprived of his older brother and overprotected by his father, the guilt and shame of the other ten. For that reason, their so-called previous reconciliation was an illusion; it was inconclusive, it had been transactional and not transformational.
It was time to face the problem in a profound way. The Torah does not tell us what they talked about, but it’s understood that it was so private that the healing from that moment did not even come to light. Mikhail Eliyah says that the word “sincere” literally means “without wax” “without camouflage”, adding that a face-to-face or heart-to-heart conversation occurs “when two or more people come together, minds only begin to synchronize and align when they are truly engaged. Discussions become constructive when they become collaborative.”
And this happened; their spirits were united and the entire community of Israel were back on track to become a nation. We read that before his death, Joseph called his brothers to declare that they would return to the Promised Land (50:23-26) and we see how his brothers were with him until the end of his days.
So even though this book of Bereshit seems to end in Tohu V’vohu (chaos), it actually ends in a Tikkun (restoration). Job 8:7 says: “And though your beginning was small, your last state will be very great.” Today we are looking forward to the restoration of all things (Tikkun Olam); we do not know when this will happen, but I am sure of something, “Elohim pakod yifkod ” אלֹהִים פָּקֹד יִפְקֹד “God will surely visit us” (50:24;50:25).
As we end the book of Bereshit, we proclaim Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik, Let us be strong, let us be strong, let’s strengthen each other.