Torah Thoughts – Vayigash

This week we read the third part of the narrative of the life and times of Joseph as he continues his epic journey from favorite son to viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. This week’s portion is Vayigash, “and he approached” (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27). Judah approaches Zaphnath-Pa’aneah (Gen. 41:45), who unbeknownst to Judah is really Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt who holds in his hand not only the life of Judah’s sibling Benjamin but also of his father Jacob. Judah approaches and pleads for Benjamin’s life and freedom. Zaphnath-Pa’aneah remains cold and stoic until the end of Judah’s impassioned plea. Then he breaks down, empties his chambers of everyone except his brothers and emotionally reveals his identity to his brothers.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” And his brothers were unable to answer him because they were terrified at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come near me.” So they came near. “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

In his book, Journey to Consciousness: Who Am I?, author and motivational speaker, A. S. Murdock recounts a story of a mother comforting her daughter after the daughter’s traumatic encounter with a rude beggar on the street. The mother gave her daughter a piece of advice that we should all have embroidered on our consciences, “Life is about choices baby and you are responsible for the choices you make. It is those choices that will determine whether your life turns out good or bad,” (p 42).

Joseph, or Zaphnath-Paaneah as the eleven brothers knew him, had every reason to be angry, even vengeful toward his siblings. They hadn’t liked him all those years ago and their hatred and jealousy caused them to sell him into slavery. Joseph’s journey as a slave took him from being a trusted house steward to a forgotten prisoner and finally to the highest position in Pharaoh’s court. Joseph had been separated from his father for more than two decades, and it was the fault of ten of these eleven brothers. But contrary to the brothers’ expectation, Joseph did not hold a grudge against them. He didn’t hold them at fault for all that he had suffered and all that he had endured. Instead he chose to interpret the story differently; he saw everything as part of God’s plan, “…it was for preserving life that God sent me here before you. … it wasn’t you, you didn’t send me here, but God!” Life is about choices, and Joseph made a choice to focus upon the act of salvation HaShem brought about through Joseph’s less than favorable circumstances.

Joseph did not mention how his brothers had mistreated him, rather he focused on the positive results that eventually came from their actions. By focusing on the positive, Joseph chose to forgive the wrong that was perpetrated against him. He recognized that if his brothers had not done what they did, there would be no grain in Egypt and Jacob’s family may well have come to an end.

In a teaching by Institute in Basic Life Principles founded by Bill Gothard, we read these words,

A key to forgiving your offender is realizing that God can work through your suffering to accomplish His purposes in your life. Ultimately, God is in control. He allows the good and bad things in life, and we can trust Him to work all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him. (See Romans 8:28.)

This understanding enabled many people in Scripture to forgive their offenders. Their response freed them from the destructive consequences of bitterness and allows them to receive the blessings that eventually came about because of their suffering.  

Do not misunderstand me – the ability to forgive those who wrong you and to see the good that can potentially come from bad situations, are not easy, but they are necessary. The Psalmist wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened,” (Psalm 66:18). This is often interpreted as the Psalmist saying that if he hid secret sin in his heart, HaShem wouldn’t listen to his prayers. I have no doubt about this interpretation, though I do not believe it is limited to this understanding. I think it also could be understood as the Psalmist saying, “if I hold on to those things that have been done against me, if I hide them in my heart and allow them to take root, then HaShem will not hear me when I pray.” Rav Shaul might have agreed with me as he wrote to the believers in Ephesus,

Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

Another bit of wisdom from the Psalmist, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is pardoned,” (Psalm 32:1). If the person who is forgiven is blessed, how much more so the person who forgives. The forgiven is free from guilt and condemnation; the one who forgives is free from the root of bitterness and anger. Most of all, as with Joseph and his brothers and eventually his father, reconciliation is possible and what was broken has the opportunity to be restored. 

Let me close with these words from Rav Shaul to the believers at Colossae, 

…bearing with one another and forgiving each other, if anyone has a grievance against another.

Colossians 3:13

The word translated ‘bearing,’ anechō, carries the connotation of “to put up with,” “to bear with,” or “to endure”. We are to bear with, put up with and endure one another and to forgive each other. As stated earlier, forgiveness is a choice. The choice to forgive is often not an easy one, but the rewards of living in forgiveness nurtures and promotes an atmosphere of reconciliation and restoration. Let’s commit to choose to walk in forgiveness, looking to see how all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

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