Bereshit Chapters 44 verse 18 to 47 verse 27

This week`s Parsha begins with Judah`s impassioned plea to the powerful Egyptian Vice Roy (Joseph-but unbeknownst to him) for Benjamin`s life, claiming that their father Jacob will surely die from sorrow if he lost Benjamin. Judah offers to remain in Egypt as a slave in his brother`s place. Joseph unable to restrain himself any longer reveals his identity to his stunned brothers and forgives them for selling him into slavery so many years before, stating that sending him to Egypt was part of the Divine plan to prepare for their people`s survival from the famine. Joseph then sends them back to their land laden with gifts and invites them to bring back Jacob and their families to the province of Goshen. Before Jacob leaves home for Egypt God appears to him in a vision of the night, reassuring him that He will be with them and that they will eventually return to the land of Israel as a great nation. After 22 years of separation Jacob is finally reunited with his beloved son. The Sidra concludes by describing how Joseph uses his vast power to amass nearly all the wealth of Egypt for Pharaoh`s treasury.

Yesterday was the longest night of the year and the shortest day. Today is 9th Tevet the Shabbat with the longest hours of darkness. Tomorrow is the Tenth of Tevet known traditionally as Taanit Asarah B`Tevet, The Fast of 10th Tevet, which recalls a very dark moment in our history, when the First Temple was destroyed and the children of Israel were exiled to Babylon. However, even this exile, in retrospect, had a positive side, in that it encouraged the Jews to record their history and laws and to begin to develop Torah study and Synagogue prayer and meditation, so that when they returned to Jerusalem and the promised land they were in many ways a stronger and more spiritual people.

The Sidra we read from today is called Vayiggash which means “and he drew close”- meaning- in an intimate way- in order to hear something personal and secret. Judah, who has taken on the leadership of the sons of Jacob asks the representative of Pharaoh if he can draw near to speak privately and intimately with him about the impact that Benjamin`s imprisonment (for allegedly stealing the golden goblet) will have on their father.

Joseph, who up till now, has given no indication who he really is so touched by Judah`s plea that he is overcome by emotion, sends his Egyptian servants out of the chamber, and breaks down in tears as he reveals his true identity to his brothers.

The story raises various questions. Why did Joseph never send word to his father? Did he think he would be bailed out for a ransom and become bitter and resentful when there was no word? The way he named his first born Manasseh gives us a clue for the name means “God made me forget” meaning God made me forget all my troubles even my father`s house.

And why did Joseph delay so long before revealing himself to his brothers?

Was it revenge by, putting them through protracted suffering, even though he would have been aware that his father Jacob would be badly affected due to Benjamin`s captivity? And why take it out on Benjamin who was not involved in the plot to get rid of him so many years back?

Or, assuming that his compassion grew as he saw that his brothers were sorry for what they had done, he may have asked himself the question: “How can I reveal myself to them so that they can regain their self–respect?

And here one can see his actions as giving his brothers an opportunity to demonstrate the qualities that were so lacking in the past. By putting the youngest- and the apple of their father`s eye- Benjamin- in danger he could test their love, loyalty and courage.

In the end they passed the test, and when Joseph revealed himself to them, they were able to look him in the face, for by their actions they had now redeemed themselves.

Earlier I said that tomorrow is the tenth of Tevet the Fast of Tevet. The fast is largely ignored by Reform Jew but it has been a day of fasting and mourning for 2000 years. What sense can we make of it and how does it relate to our Sidra and Haftarah and our life today?

The Tenth day of Tevet marks the anniversary of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, which ultimately led to the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. and those terrible events which included the exile into Babylon and the destruction of the Jewish nation.

Some of our rabbis and sages have said that these terrible events came about because, far from living harmoniously, Jew opposed Jew needlessly and extensively. Like the Egyptians in Exodus the Jews were struck down with a terrible plague- the Plague of Sinat Chinan - the plague of groundless hatred. Groundless hatred has caused widespread havoc among our people throughout history and throughout the world- just think of examples of this the schism between Othodox and Progressive Jews, Nazism, Maoism, Stalinism, Anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, the Taliban and Indiscriminate terrorist killing. Mass hatred and mass minded evil infects apparently cultured and educated people and turns them into monsters. Instead of looking for harmony, for what we have in common, we find reasons to suspect, to hate, to abuse and to kill.

So we come back to the Fast of Tevet. It was not just kept as an expression of regret for the loss of the Temple, Jerusalem and the land Of Israel, or of a desire to return and rebuild, but also as a meditative opportunity and reminder of the need to be careful, watchful and respectful in the way that we deal with and treat each other in order to keep the plague of Sinat Chinan, groundless hatred, well away from our thinking and emotions.

In our Torah reading today Judah demonstrates that he is now well beyond the mischievous, jealous hatred of his younger days when he implicated himself in the sale of Joseph and has moved on to a place where he is truly a mensch, offering his life in place of Benjamin.

If we can learn how to draw close to another human being, we may get close to the loving, caring relationship with our fellow human beings that can combat and counter the tendency to hate, and to be selfish, and that ends in disharmony, chaos, hatred, war and oppression.

One more lesson that helps us to love, and not to hate, is taught in the story of Joseph for he was left for dead, sold into slavery by his brothers, deprived of his family life, and yet, many years later, on meeting his long lost brothers, who had wronged him, was prepared to draw near to them, overlook the past and forgive them so that they could all start afresh in the present for the sake of the future.

If we, and the people of Israel and Palestine, of Syria and Egypt; Progressive Jews and Orthodox Jews, and many others could do this simple thing imagine what the world would be like.


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