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Joseph, his brothers and the complexities of forgiveness

12/11/2018 12:53:17 PM

Dec11

Beverly Siegal

Last week’s Torah portion (Mikketz) and this week’s (Vayigash) include one of the most dramatic family stories in the Torah - the reunification of Joseph with his brothers and father, Jacob. Joseph’s brothers certainly had no idea that the annoying brother they sold into slavery is one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Jacob has continued mourning for his favorite son, Joseph, and now Benjamin is the treasured son, the only surviving son of his beloved Rachel.
During the great famine, the 10 brothers travel to Egypt to buy food leaving Benjamin at home. At the initial encounter in the palace, Joseph does not reveal himself to his brothers yet wants to know about his father and Benjamin. He puts into motion a plan to get Benjamin to Egypt, but his harsh behavior gives no clue as to his identity or his motivation. Ultimately, after journeys to and from Canaan and some trickery by Joseph, the brothers come together, Joseph reveals himself, everyone cries, and all seems forgiven.
We inevitably try to tease this story apart and wonder what Joseph was really thinking and what were his motivations. His brothers are well aware of their guilt, saying, “We saw his soul’s distress when he pleaded with us, but we didn’t listen.” Were these the words Joseph was waiting to hear for so many years? Joseph leaves the room to cry, but upon his return has his brother, Simeon, bound and sends the rest of his brothers on their way.
Joseph will justify his brothers’ terrible behavior that caused pain to both himself and his father by saying their actions ultimately would assure the family’s survival in Egypt. But until he revealed his identity, he caused anxiety and distress for his family. I wonder if Joseph actually thought about how long he would make his brothers suffer. Perhaps this is a lesson in forgiveness and how complicated the process can be.
Beverly Siegal is a member of Temple Shalom.

Thu, April 25 2019 20 Nisan 5779