Vayigash is one of my favorite portions. It completes a part of the Joseph cycle in a powerful and dramatic way. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan and are confronted by their lost brother whom they do not recognize. But Joseph sees them bowing down to him, as he had dreamt, as he is now a powerful member of Pharaoh’s court and, from what we are told in the texts, an assimilated Egyptian. The story turns in chapter 45 with the “reveal” as Joseph, in one of the more dramatic passages in Torah, confronts his brothers. He tells them who he is and as if the pull and power of family take control asks one of the great question of Genesis (45:3) “Is my father alive” (avi chai?). You can just imagine that moment as his brothers suddenly must deal with this reality and when they ask what happened, Joseph (45:4-5) assures the brothers that all that has transpired happened for a purpose, as if the hand of God had orchestrated his past years.
Joseph had, as some would argue, every reasont to reject his brothers. Indeed, he did concoct a ruse with a goblet to, perhaps, test his brothers. But, in the end, he embraced them, and later Jacob when he arrived in Egypt. Indeed, Pharaoh rewarded Jacob and the family with choice land in Goshen. Instead of rejecting his past, Joseph, when given the opportunity, embraced it. We know people who, in their adult lives, attempt to cut themselves off from their family of origin. Often, to be sure, for good reasons. Yet, we always wonder if, as we get older and priorities change, we do not, in some way, seek a reconnection. That small phrase and question spoken by Joseph as he reveals himself says so much about the human condition. Is dad alive? It is as if the years and trials of Joseph’s life suddenly were suspended and his subconscious broke through as he sought the loving embrace of his father. Parents and children again become a theme of Genesis, as they are with each of us. Yes, it is complicated, but try as we may to repress this most fundamental of relationships, those pulls of blood and history so often call to us. The challenge , for many, is to have the courage, as did Joseph, to answer that call.
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.