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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat VaYigash – What’s up with Joseph

Posted by rabbiart on December 27, 2011

Is Joseph in touch with his feelings? Was he Pharoah’s iron hammer with a soft chewy center? In last week’s parshah he meets and recognizes his brothers, who have no idea who he is. He treats them harshly, but when he takes his brother Simon as a hostage to be held, he turns away and weeps When the brothers return to Joseph with Benjamin, he runs from the chamber in haste so that he may weep again in private. In these two instances, there is no mention in the Torah of anyone overhearing Joseph crying.

Finally, Joseph reveals himself to the brothers, and now he is so overcome with emotion that he is unable to move. He sends everyone – except his brothers – out of the chamber, and reveals himself to them. His weeping is heard and becomes known to all of Pharoah’s household.

Commentators ancient and modern have had a field day analyzing this story and finding in it a tale of Joseph’s maturation as an adult and a theologian.  He is magnanimous, forgiving his brothers. He is spiritual or religiously aware, crediting HaShem with arranging the entire trajectory of his life in order to prepare the ground for his extended family to find food and safety – but later slavery – in Egypt.

But the text also tells us a story of profound loneliness and rejection. With the Torah’s customary carefulness in choice and use of wording, the text mirrors Judah’s approach with Joseph’s reaction.  When Judah approaches Joseph to make his final plea the text says וַיִּגַּשׁ אֵלָיו יְהוּדָה – Judah came close to Joseph.  When Joseph finally breaks down and responds, the text quotes him to say  גְּשׁוּ-נָא אֵלַי, וַיִּגָּשׁוּ – come close to me, and they came close.  It’s as simple as brothers seeking brothers.

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