This week’s dvar Torah comes from our friend and author Gordon Haber, who we met at Jewlicious Festival last year. Interested in writing a dvar for PunkTorah? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started!
In Parashat Vayigash, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. After a moving
speech from Judah—in which he begs to be enslaved in Benjamin’s stead, thus
sparing their father the grief of losing another favored son—Joseph clears the room
and announces, “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?”
A lot more happens in the parashat, but this first “scene” contains a number of
lessons. Rashi reminds us that Joseph orders the Egyptians from the room to spare
his brothers any embarrassment. And the Rambam teaches that true repentance is
reached when one has the opportunity to repeat a sin, but chooses to do otherwise.
Thus Judah, who, some twenty years earlier, had suggested that the brothers sell
Joseph into slavery, redeems himself with his offer.
But I am touched, instead, by the message of reconciliation and forgiveness between
brothers. Joseph reminds them that “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you have sold
unto Egypt.” But immediately thereafter he puts them at ease. Don’t grieve, he says.
Don’t be angry with yourself. It was God’s will that you sent me here, “to preserve
life” during a time of famine; and God put me before you so that you too can be
Genesis is packed with complicated fraternal relationships—Cain and Abel,
Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his seething brothers. Only in the latter do we see
an uncomplicated generosity of spirit. Granted, Joseph puts them to the test; but
ultimately he is instrumental in their safety and prosperity.
This story is a kind of harbinger to that of Moses and Aaron, who rejoiced in each
other. But in this parashat I also see the frustrations and rewards of brotherhood.
Joseph, the papa’s boy, the tattletale, the bragging dream-teller in a gaudy coat, has
matured. Judah, who participated in his brother’s enslavement, has repented.
If it is an extreme example of what can go wrong between siblings, it nonetheless
contains a powerful message: we are our brothers’ keepers.