Thoughts on Vayigash

This week’s parasha is Vayigash, Genesis 44:18 – 47:27.[i] The Haftarah is Ezekiel 37:15-28 and the reading from the Apostolic Writings isJohn 5:16-29.

It is a bit sad that for so many years, Jacob’s sons continued with the lie that Joseph had been torn apart by wild beasts. Even now in our parasha when Joseph requires that his brother Benjamin be brought to him, Judah guarantees Benjamin’s safety but does not tell his father the truth but allows his father’s grief to continue. How many families, friendships, even congregations today are split apart because of past actions that have never really had a chance to heal because they were never fully addressed or confronted? Rav Shaul was correct when he admonished the believers in Ephesus

So lay aside lying and “each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another (or we are one body). “Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun go down on your anger, nor give the devil (or adversary) a foothold. 

Ephesians 4:25-27

All the years that Joseph’s supposed death grieved Jacob could have been avoided. Though we are not told, the relationship between the ten sons and their father must have been strained due to their actions and the lie they perpetrated. Fortunately, Joseph did not focus on the past, nor did he allow the actions of his brothers to define him. When he could stand it no longer, Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers.

“I’m Joseph, your brother—the one you sold to Egypt,” he said. “So now, don’t be grieved and don’t be angry in your own eyes that you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you. For there has been two years of famine in the land, and there will be five more years yet with no plowing or harvesting. But God sent me ahead of you to ensure a remnant in the land and to keep you alive for a great escape. So now, it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God! And He made me as a father to Pharaoh, lord over his whole house and ruler over the entire land of Egypt.” 

Genesis 45:3-8

It was well within Joseph’s power to imprison or even execute his brothers for their actions. He could have sent them away, keeping Benjamin and thus turning his back completely on his past life. But the narrative does not even hint that either course of action was in Joseph’s mind. He did not excuse his brothers’ actions, but he did enforce the idea that it was God who sent him to prepare the way to preserve the Jewish people and the Egyptians. Look at the progression of Joseph’s words to his brothers

First: “…the one you sold to Egypt…,” (vs.4), this is a reminder of how things started.

Second: “you sold me here—since it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you…,” (vs 5), yes you had a hand in the process but HaShem sent me to prepare for you.

And finally: “…you didn’t send me here, but God…,” (vs 8), it was not you but HaShem that orchestrated the events. Rabbi Sarna notes that with the progression, Joseph was “…thereby substituting the beneficial result for their evil purpose.”[ii] It is possible that Joseph as well as his brothers might relate with Douglas Adams as one of his many characters proclaimed, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”[iii] Joseph was exactly where he needed to be to bring about HaShem’s providential care not only for the children of Israel but for Egypt and the rest of the surrounding world as well.

I believe we would all do well to step back at times, taking our eyes off of our own situation(s) however good or bad they might be, and try to look at the bigger picture and to attempt to get a glimpse of what ADONAI is doing. For sure, this lesson is not an easy one to learn. But I believe it is doable if we trust in the leadership and the care of ADONAI, realizing that we are to “walk by faith not by sight,” (2 Corinthians 5:7). There is a second lesson to be learned from Joseph’s encounter with his brothers. Though acknowledging their part in the beginning of his journey, he did not continue to blame them for his circumstances. Playing the blame game does nothing to restore relationships. Past circumstances cannot be changed but our perspectives on the outcome can lessen or remove the power the past circumstance holds over our present life. Maybe this is one of the reasons for Yeshua including the following phrase about forgiveness when He taught His disciples to pray

Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too haveforgiven those who have wronged us. 

Matthew 6:12, CJB[iv]

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Commentary Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation and Commentary, Philadelphia: JPS, 1989, p. 309.

[iii] Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988 (ePub formatted 2011), p. 216.

[iv] Paraphrased by David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament, Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1989, p. 8.

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