By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant This week’s Torah Parsha (BO) continues with the story of Exodus. God had already inflicted seven devastating plagues on Egypt, subsequent to the Pharaoh’s...
The major theme of the book of Genesis is dysfunctional family dynamics and sibling rivalry, which tend to repeat themselves, generation after generation. Adam and Eve never interacted with their two sons; Cain killed his brother Abel; Ishmael mocked his brother Isaac, and was forced from his home at the age of sixteen; Jacob stole his brother Esau’s birthright; and, they only reconciled because Esau forgot the incident, which occurred twenty years before; (1) and, Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmalite slave traders.
This disturbing cycle of unendurable sibling rivalry ends in this week’s Torah Parsha (VAYIGASH). In last week’s Torah Parsha (MIKEITZ), Joseph’s twenty year imprisonment in an Egyptian jail finally ends. The Pharaoh had two similar dreams, which were haunting him. His former cell-mate, the Pharaoh’s butler remembers how Joseph correctly interpreted his dream, as well as that of the Pharaoh’s baker. Joseph is retrieved from jail, to listen and interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams. He tells the Pharaoh that the significance of the dreams suggest that there will be seven years of ‘plenty’, which will be immediately followed by seven years of ‘famine’.
Joseph, further suggests that the Pharaoh locate a ‘wise’ man to administer the allocation of grain during the years of plenty and drought. Naturally, Joseph is chosen; and made Viceroy of all Egypt.
Famine spreads throughout the region, and can only be obtained in Egypt. Ten of Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain. Benjamin, the second and youngest son born to Rachel, stays home; as his father, Jacob fears for his safety. Joseph recognizes his brothers, although not one can identify him. Joseph treats them very harshly; accuses them of being spies; and, demands that they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin.
Jacob agrees to send Benjamin only after Judah assumes personal and eternal responsibility for him. On the next visit, Joseph receives the brothers kindly; and, promises to sell them grain. However, as they are leaving, Joseph plants his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. The men are pursued, and Benjamin is brought back to be a slave to Pharaoh.
Parsha (VAYIGASH) begins as Judah (who now recognizes Joseph) addresses Joseph with a heartfelt and profound speech: “My father had a wife and she bore him two sons, and one left…never to be seen again” (2). Judah speaks eloquently about their father’s grief if he loses the second of his beloved Rachel’s child. Judah pleads with Joseph: “Now, then please let me remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let him return with his brothers; how can I go back to my father if his youngest son is not with me; NO! Do not let me see the misery which would come on my father” (3).
No sooner has Judah said these words, then Joseph, overcome with emotion, reveals his identity; and the whole elaborate drama reaches closure.
Judah is the first person in the Torah to achieve ‘perfect repentance’ (teshuva gemurah), defined by our sages as one, who finds himself in a situation to repeat an earlier sin; but, does not do so because he is a changed person (5).
In contrast, the sages consider Joseph as having a narcissistic personality; and, inwardly an unstable mindset of greed, ambition, and jealousy (5).
(2) GENESIS (44: 27-28)
(3) GENESIS (44:33-34)
(4) Maimonides Hilkhot Teshuva (2.1)