Have you dealt with your past?

When I began the book of Genesis this year, I decided to teach how to apply the Torah to our lives instead of dealing with theology. One of the most difficult things for us to learn is how to forgive, and especially how to forgive ourselves.  Most of our psychological illnesses stem from this. We need to learn to come clean with ourselves – to accept, to declare what we have done and then to do our best to correct it.  Ask yourself this…”What are the things in my life that I have swept under the rug but that keep coming back to persecute me; where have I not been able to forgive myself?”

In this portion, this issue comes to light in how Joseph and his brothers deal with each other. After Joseph had revealed his identity to his brothers, we saw that he had forgiven them.  They had been living a very good life for 17 years in Goshen, then in Genesis 50:15-17, we read that they were afraid that Joseph would try to get even now that Jacob had died so they sent him a message.  “Before your father died, he gave us this order … please forgive the spiteful deeds and faults of your brothers and all the wrong they did youJoseph wept at the message they sent to him.”  The brothers showed how guilty they felt by saying that they were ready to be his slaves. Joseph replied, “Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God’s place? The evil you planned to do me has by God’s design been turned to good…”  The Creator didn’t put this into their hearts, as some of our sages teach, in order to fulfill the vision to Abraham that they would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years. It was their own choice and they would have to bear the responsibility for their actions.

Joseph’s brothers felt guilty; it would seem that they never revealed to their father what they had done nor did they ask Joseph himself for forgiveness. They only acknowledged it to one another. As long as Jacob was alive, they felt protected but in the end, they would have to confront this issue.  When someone has done something to hurt you and you have forgiven them, they may still not “feel” forgiven. Joseph also needed to come clean; he did so when he wept as he realized that his brothers had been living with this kind of pain and fear for the past 17 years.

Joseph didn’t live in Goshen and would only visit from time to time or when there was a need. In this case, Jacob had called Joseph to him because he was in his last days.  Joseph brought his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim for Jacob to bless.  When Jacob crossed his arms to bless the younger one Ephraim first, Joseph immediately tried to correct him so that he would bless Manasseh the elder first. Jacob assured him saying: I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; however his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.’ These two boys who loved each other would reverse the curse of hatred between the two brothers, Jacob and Esau.  The Torah teaches us that the new generations can improve if we teach them to do what is right.

Today the new generations are becoming more secular, abandoning the understanding of the Creator.  In spite of living in a foreign environment and that their own mother was not an Israelite, Ephraim and Manasseh kept their identity and were added to the tribes of Israel. To this day we pray every Shabbat “May our sons be like Ephraim and Manasseh”. This speaks highly of both Joseph and his wife, Asenath who helped their sons know about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The most important thing for us to understand from all this is that it is not our costume or outward appearance that dictates who we truly are. That is why the younger generation is leaving the fold. They can smell hypocrisy. Joseph was the true head of his home leading his good wife in the right direction. What happens when the husband does not take the spiritual leadership or when the wife opposes her husband’s leadership? This causes a big problem in the home and the children become confused. Mothers need to realize the important role they have in their homes and fathers need to take their role as head of the home. We are all at different stages in our parenthood. Even if we have been able to be a good role model for our families, the results are not always in our hands since our children have free will. Young people need to analyze their own reactions and ask themselves whether their parents love them when they advise them what to do.

When we don’t deal with our issues, sooner or later, they will catch up with us. Our sages ask the question, did Joseph’s brothers tell his father what they had done to him? It seems that they invented Jacob’s order to Joseph telling him to forgive them showing us how human we are! We always try to justify our actions or we end up placing the blame elsewhere. This has been true right from Adam and Eve. Rarely do we accept the responsibility ourselves. Judah responded in the right way in the case of Tamar; when confronted with what he did; he immediately acknowledged his wrongdoing stating that she was more righteous than him.

The message of this book of Genesis is that the LORD is the Bore Olam (the Creator) and is in charge of everything but He gives us the opportunity to do our own thing; He gave us free will – bechira chofshitחופשית –  בחירה which makes us responsible before Him. We are not judged by our mistakes, although we do have to suffer the consequences, but in spite of them, He is faithful to keep His promises to us.  Like our Creator does with us, Joseph had already given his word and had forgiven his brothers but they felt guilty and didn’t forgive themselves. Once we are forgiven it is a done deal. The most difficult thing for us to do is to forgive ourselves.

Have you dealt with your past or does it still haunt you?  It is time to confront your past deeds one by one, give them to the Creator, thank Him for forgiving you, make restitution and begin again.

Shabbat Shalom