Rabbi’s Torah Commentary Vayigash and Christmas

Parshat Vayigash
Genesis 44:18 -47:27
By: Rabbi Denise L. Eger
 
After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and they embrace with a tearful reunion in this week’s portion. Upon hearing the news, the Pharaoh and court are pleased. Pharaoh makes a generous offer and tells Joseph to resettle them in the land of Egypt.  Perhaps he doesn’t want to lose such a key man in the business of running Egypt. And so Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan to get their families and most importantly, their father Jacob. Joseph sent gifts to his father and clothing to his brothers but to his full brother Benjamin he gives a large sum of money in addition. 
 
The brothers who once came to their father Jacob to say their brother was dead must now go back to him and tell him that Joseph their brother is alive! And not only is he alive but the second most powerful person in all of Egypt!  No wonder Jacob has a hard time believing them. “His heart went numb, for he did not believe them” (Gen 45:26). It took some convincing on the brothers’ part and the proof of all the wagons that Joseph sent but Jacob (now an old man) says “My son Joseph is still alive! I must go and see him before I die” (Gen. 45:28).
 
And that is what happens. Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited in this week’s portion. Joseph was the favored son long thought dead and his father had mourned him.  But Jacob on the way down to Egypt has a vision of God who promises that Jacob will return to Canaan but that Joseph will also be by his side at his death. In other words, Jacob will not be separated again from his son Joseph and God will always be with Jacob whether in Egypt or Canaan.
 
Joseph goes out to meet his father in the land of Goshen, The land that Jacob and his sons and their families will settle in.  Father and son reunite amid tears of joy and relief.  Jacob feels his life is complete in a new way saying, “Now I can die, having seen for myself that you are still alive” (Gen. 46:30). Joseph brings some of his brothers to Pharaoh and ultimately presents his father before the court.  And Pharaoh confirms the land of Goshen for the settlement and herds and flocks.
 
Joseph is able to integrate his family of origin with his family of choice!  This is a challenge in any age.  How does your adopted family, your close friends who are your family, circle mesh with your actual family?  This can be challenging especially when your family of origin hasn’t been so kind through the years (like Joseph’s brothers who were cruel to the young Joseph selling him into slavery.).
 
And especially during these two weeks at the end of the secular year this is a challenge for many people.  Children are off of school. Many people have shortened work weeks and time off.  And lots of people visit family during these two last weeks of the year.  So the reunion of Joseph and his brothers who had once been so cruel to him might give us some important clues how to act even as we reunite with our families.  Joseph could not have revealed himself and embraced his family of origin. In fact he does toy with them a bit to see if they have changed. But the opportunity to be reunited with his full brother Benjamin and his father tug at his heart. And he sees how his half brothers of grown and changed since he was a teen.  He let his image of them be updated and he let the grudges and hurt of the past go.  Maybe he didn’t completely forget but he was certainly in a different place now than then. And his brothers were too.
 
So he says to them, “I am Joseph your brother.” And he reveals himself and weeps with them-tears of joy and tears from the years of heartache and loneliness. And the reunification with his family of origin goes well for Joseph and for them.
 
So during this Christmas week and New Year’s week-when so many of us travel to be with families of origin or are welcoming our families of origin into our turf with our friends and family of choice.  Remember Joseph’s strength and courage to move beyond the past hurts and find new ground with his family. It may help each one of us grow and mature.

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