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Not being held captive by the past

01/01/2020 09:10:56 AM


Jeff Remz

The enduring family drama of Joseph and his brothers continues in this week’s parshah, Vayigash. Joseph, who once was thrown into a pit by his brothers before being sold to passing Midianites, finally reveals himself to his understandably astonished and frightened brothers, who came to Egypt to survive famine in Canaan. They wonder if Joseph will take revenge for what they did to him.
Revenge was not taken, of course, as revisionist history becomes part of the narrative. Joseph tells his brothers not to be distressed or blame themselves. “It was to save a life that God sent me ahead of you,” Joseph says (Etz Hayim translation), adding, “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth…So, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Interestingly, that is not what Joseph previously told the cupbearer in prison. Joseph told him he was kidnapped and did nothing to deserve being put there.
Joseph’s thought processes could have led to a change of heart or perhaps a rationalization of the difficult events of his life. Like many of us when we look to the past, our prism of interpreting and understanding events or people or even long-held viewpoints can change over time. For Joseph, who clearly cited God as the reason for his change, this meant that he was able to forgive and then reconcile with his brothers and see his youngest brother, Benjamin, again and, of course, his father, Jacob.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “We cannot fully understand what is happening to us now until we can look back in retrospect and see how it all turned out. This means that we are not held captive by the past."
Achieving that may be really hard, but in
Vayigash and hopefully in our own personal lives, that’s a good thing.
Jeff Remz is the Temple Director of Communications and Marketing.

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780