How do you reconcile after estrangement?

"Joseph recognized by his brothers," León Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863
"Joseph recognized by his brothers," León Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863

Vayigash continues unfolding the stories from last week’s parshah Mikeitz between Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph, Judah, Rueven are all revealing their struggles.  How each remembers what transpired years before tells us much about the individuals and how they will approach meeting each other again:  Joseph, It is all meant to be; Judah, I feel guilt and remorse but I have grown from the pain; Reuven, I was right, if only you listened, we would not be here now.  Their stories contain rationalizations, denials, anger and other emotional responses to bad experiences that drive people apart.

These memories also demonstrate that whatever the actual facts, each of us processes and remembers differently.  For movie buffs like me, this is summed up for me in the Maurice Chevalier song from the movie Gigi, I Remember it Well.

We met at nine, we met at eight,

I was on time, no, you were late
Ah, yes, I remember it well.
We dined with friends, we dined alone,

A tenor sang, a baritone
Ah, yes, I remember it well…”

Each of us remembers in our own way.  We process and create a memory that becomes the story.  Sometimes it aligns with the facts more closely than at other times.  I have often recounted events very differently than how my wife remembered it. We all have seen other couples, as in Gigi, do likewise, disagreeing on many points as to things actually occurred.  It is hard enough with partners committed to each other. But when there is estrangement, such as with Joseph and his brothers, reconnecting with someone when there are opposing narratives becomes even harder.

Rabbi David Levin
Rabbi David Levin

These stories often contain a hero and a villain, things that created chasms between them and us based on the thing that caused the initial separation.  As we move toward reconnecting, we start with a premise that reconnecting is a good thing, serving a greater purpose than whatever caused the rift. So whether we are reconnecting with a long lost brother, estranged child, forsaken lover, we need to find forgiveness, for either them or ourselves, and acceptance of them and their different story.

We delve into the details later on perhaps, learning the other’s narrative that described the event and the motivations that were present in the moment.  We create a rapprochement that can lead to a new phase of an actively engaged relationship with our long lost other, picking up where we left off so long ago, informed by the past, but now older and wiser.

This however, may never come to be.  Vayigash is filled with many seemingly serendipitous moments that all had to happen in order for Jacob’s family reunite, move beyond the wounds each person carried, and then heal.  But even with serendipity, coincidence, or the hand of God guiding the process, it is ultimately up to each of us to reach out to the other with forgiveness in order to move forward together.

About Rabbi David Levin 16 Articles
David Levin is a reform rabbi ordained from the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion (NY). David serves the community of Greater Philadelphia. He also devotes his time to special projects including Jewish Sacred Aging, teaching and free speech issues on the college campus. David worked with the Union for Reform Judaism in the Congregational Network as a Rabbinical Director serving the East Coast congregations. He also had the honor of working at Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, PA. David Levin is a Fellow with Rabbis Without Borders, an interdenominational rabbinic group affiliated with CLAL. David Levin proudly claims to be one of Rabbi Louis Frishman’s (z”l) “Temple Kids”, from Temple Beth El in Spring Valley, NY. David attended the University of Chicago earning an AB in Economics. He went on to the New York University Graduate School of Business where he earned an MBA in Finance. Before becoming a rabbi, David enjoyed a career centered in banking and real estate finance, and he also worked in the family garment business.

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