Vayigash: Children and Parents and Relationships

We come this coming Shabbat to one of the most powerful passages in our Torah. Genesis 45:3. The famine continues. Joseph’s brothers are brought before Joseph. After the trials and tests of the previous Torah portion, it is as if Joseph finally reaches a point where he cannot continue to hide is true self. He must reveal himself. He sends attendants from the room, calls his brothers forward to him, and with tears in his eyes says: “I am Joseph. Is my father alive?” Some commentaries translate the Hebrew “ha’ode avi chai” as “is my father well”? The Hebrew uses the word “chai”, as in alive. I think this is much more profound.
Joseph, who had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, who rose to power, now confronts his brothers. No revenge, rather revelation. And, what is his first concern? Is dad OK! How is my father?
This passage has always spoken to me. I think it speaks to something very profound. As we grow older and reflect more on our own life, our relationships with parents seem to take on a greater importance. Perhaps we become more aware of the impact of our parents in our life. Perhaps, that image in the mirror we see sparks memories we cannot quite comprehend.
Notice also that Joseph seeks reconciliation (remember his father’s episode with Esau at the river Jabbok) and not revenge. Again, a message for us as we age; what value is there in holding on to past disagreements, grudges or dislikes? One of the saddest moments that clergy at times see is when, at a death, old disagreements prevent a sense of “shalom”. Often, there are regrets and statements that begin with “if only” I had said something to make peace.
Joseph’s revelation of “is my dad still alive” speaks to much more than this Biblical story. It really speaks to all of us and our relationships; relationships that, as we know, ebb and flow throughout life. What remains constant is the power and importance of our primary relationships. “Is my father still alive?” asks us to search our life to see if our relationships are still alive.
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min

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