Vayigash (Genesis 44:18ff) brings us to one of the most powerful scenes of Torah. The famine has spread and Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt. In one of the most dramatic verses of Torah (45:3) Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and asks immediately “is my father still alive?” (ha’od avi chai?). There are a myriad of themes that jump from the text in these passages: forgiveness, the relationship of fathers and sons, of brothers to brothers, to name a few. The drama and pathos of the text is powerful and moving and is something that all can relate for each of us has had moments in life that have called us to reveal our true self.
There is another aspect of these scenes that I looked at when examining the portion. It has to do with seeking meaning. Many commentators saw in Joseph’s exile into Egypt and his eventual elevation to power the hand of God working. Indeed, Joseph seems to speak to this idea (a very traditional part of Jewish theology) in the verse right after his powerful revelation. “Then Joseph said to his brothers,Come forward/draw near to me. They came forward and Joseph said: ‘I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you’ (45:4,5) In other words, Torah saw a divine plan working, the casting of Joseph into the pit and his eventual sojourn to Egypt was not accidental. There was a Master plan at work. There was a Divine purpose.
I do not pretend to know each of your theological positions. What these verses do remind us of is that one of the challenges for all of us, and heightened as we age, is to find a sense of meaning and purpose in the life we live. I believe in a theory of randomness, that so much of what happens to us we cannot control and it is how we respond to that randomness of life that helps determine who we are. Joseph could have reacted with anger and bitterness. Yet, life had changed him, mellowed him, given him a sense of purpose. One can make a similar argument for the scene a few weeks ago when Jacob reconciled with Esau at the River Jabbok. Part of our challenge in life is to find a sense of meaning and purpose in our life, even when things do not seem to be working out. Part of that mission is to have faith in our own self that we can overcome or deal with that random event or situation. Joseph teaches us a lesson here. He sees God’s hand in the circumstances that befell him and that led to his brother’s coming to Egypt and thus the reunion. The “hand of God” idea runs through much of Jewish theology and, in truth, other religious theologies as well. But even if you do not see this Divine hand at work in history, the larger meaning holds true; that we face the challenge and the opportunity to see in life’s circumstances our own sense of purpose and place. It is rarely easy, but once found, we derive meaning, and in doing so we may “draw near” (vayigash) to our true self.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.