Forgiveness is Reconciliation

Everyone who has read last week’s Parashat Miketz has been eagerly awaiting the outcome of the meeting between Joseph and his brothers. In this Parashah Vayigash, the suspense ends with the long-awaited finale of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Finally, Joseph reveals to them that he is their brother, that he doesn’t hold a grudge against them, and that it is thanks to everything that happened to him that he has been able to become the right hand of Pharaoh in Egypt. His brothers cannot believe it; it is a meeting filled with emotion and is one of the stories of the Torah where we learn the process of repentance and a change in attitude (a paradigm shift). It is a fascinating and inspiring story that can be applied to our lives today. The connection among the brothers is made through the relationship between Judah and Joseph, two very different people, each one having come from a different background, having different personalities and roles.

Some questions may arise: what was the virtue of each of the brothers? How do they complement each other? In conventional translations “Vayigash” means “And he approached.” This word contains the idea of dragging or carrying something. Genesis 44:18: ” וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָהVayigash elav Yehudah” This is speaking of the moment when Yehudah (Judah) revealed his concern, his fear to Joseph. There was a confrontation between Judah and Joseph, where Joseph had to demonstrate his supremacy. This is when Judah lowering his tone and his pride, spoke from the bottom of his heart. He was careful not to awaken in Joseph any feeling of displeasure. He did not know who Joseph was at this point, but he knew that anger can be aroused in anyone and that Joseph’s tolerance of them could change at any moment.

The phrase that begins Genesis 45, “Then Joseph cannot refrain himself” is what lies behind what happens next. Joseph had planned to continue testing his brothers, but now he was disarmed by their attitude, and he could no longer contain his emotions in front of all those around him. This is what caused him to reveal his identity. Here we can speak about the importance of taking responsibility for our actions, not placing it on others. Accepting responsibility and acknowledging the mistakes we make, open the door to repentance, and through this arises the prospect of forgiveness and reconciliation.

This parashah is an example of this. When Joseph told them that he would take Benjamin as his slave, Judah held fast to the promise he had made to his father. The brothers recognized the pain that they had caused their father by what they had done to Joseph. They realized that they could not put Jacob through any more pain, so Judah asked Joseph to allow him to take Benjamin’s place. Joseph realized that his brothers understood their mistake, that they were truly sorry, and that they would not repeat it. This was when Joseph revealed his identity to them and forgave them.

Perhaps this is the most dramatic story found in the entire Torah. After being sold by his brothers and being away from his family for 22 years, Joseph confronted them. Do you remember the dreams in Genesis 37 that Joseph had about the sheafs bowing down to his, and the other about the sun, the moon, and the stars bowing down to him? The brothers were unaware that this ruler who tormented them, who accused them of being spies, who imprisoned Shimon and threatened to take Benjamin as a slave, was in truth, Joseph. When Joseph says the words, ” אֲנִי יוֹסֵף Ani Yosef – I am Joseph” (Genesis 45: 3), the brothers were silent and afraid, but Joseph comforted them with a long monologue and expressed his forgiveness. He also gave them instructions about returning home and bringing Jacob down to Egypt.

Through this Parashah with God’s grace, we find the way to repent of the mistakes we made, and that this repentance allows us to be forgiven by those we hurt. Joseph forgave, demonstrating that he did not hold a grudge towards his brothers. This teaches us that in life we need to find courage in many areas. It took courage to be pulled out of that well, to survive in an Egyptian prison, to govern throughout the Egyptian crisis, to be a Hebrew in Pharaoh’s palace, and not want to die. But above all, the story of Joseph teaches us that there is no greater courage than the courage that it takes to forgive.

Joseph brought his father to Egypt. Jacob was brought before Pharaoh and we read the beautiful words in 47:7 וַיְבָרֶךְ יַעֲקֹב, אֶת-פַּרְעֹה “Jacob blessed Pharaoh”. When Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was, he replied: “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the years of the life of my parents in the days when they wandered.”  Commentators note that Jacob indeed had a hard life. For decades, he had lived in fear that his brother Esau would kill him. Then he spent 20 years working for his evil uncle Laban, who constantly deceived him and made him work under the most difficult physical conditions. Later, Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter whose name is mentioned, was tragically raped. And finally, Jacob spent many years in anguish, convinced that his beloved son Joseph had died.

Jacob’s comment to Pharaoh about his “life of great difficulty” seems inappropriate. Although it is legitimate for a person to complain about the tribulations of his life, what does Jacob’s attitude teach us? The Midrash describes God’s dismay at Jacob’s comment. It says that the Almighty said to Yaakov: “I have given you refuge from Esau and Laban, I have given you back Dinah and Joseph, and yet you complain?” The Midrash concludes that Jacob’s life was shortened because of his complaint. For if Jacob (or anyone else) doesn’t fully appreciate his life, then why would he be given longevity?!  Being grateful for what we have, for the good and the bad, brings blessings in our lives. Despite any suffering or lack, we must “work” to appreciate the Creator’s benevolence in our lives. From Joseph we can learn that even in the most adverse situations when we find ourselves in places that are far from ideal for connecting with our spirituality, it is possible to move forward and move forward we must by adhering to the study and application of the Torah to receive its light.

Shabbat Shalom!      Alexander Alvarado