Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

GOOD MORNING!! I’m sending an old davar as I read through it and enjoyed it a second time myself! There will be no weekly or daily davar next week as it’s holiday time for rabbis too! 

My Channukah appeal is over and I didn’t raise as much as I was hoping for, so this is one last opportunity if you do want to give. The page will remain open until the end of this week. You can access it here. Thank you to all who have contributed! 

Wishing you all a happy holiday season.

torah portion

This portion is packed with emotion and intrigue. We left off last week with Joseph’s pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself instead. The two most powerful brothers each stand their ground. With neither willing to give an inch, the tension is palpable. Finally, Joseph, overcome with emotion, can hold out no longer. He clears the room and reveals his identity to his brothers. They are, understandably, quite shocked. Joseph sends a message to his father who leaves immediately to be reunited with is favourite son. 

Jacob meets Pharaoh and settles with his family in the Goshen district of Egypt, the first Jewish ghetto – in suburbia of course! As the famine continues, Joseph buys up all of the property in Egypt for Pharaoh in return for grain. 

davar torah

I am a fan of Alexandre Dumas’s brilliant book, the Count of Monte Cristo. It’s as famous as novels come and it’s incredibly well written and gripping. However….. I also find it disturbing, deeply disturbing actually. Right up there in disturbance levels with Anna Karenina. (Warning: spoilers coming up if you still want to read the book….) Not only is it about Edmond Dantes’s revenge – meticulously planned to exact the maximum pain and humiliation on those who wronged him; and not only is Dantes seemingly impervious to the massive collateral damage that he causes, even to the woman he once loved and including the death of an innocent child; but, most disturbing to me, is the fact that the book seems to glorify the ‘virtue’ of revenge. 

The contrast with Joseph, in this week’s portion, could not be starker. Edmond Dantes was in prison for fourteen years. Joseph was sold by his brothers and lived as a slave, then in prison for thirteen years. Almost identical experiences. Each is believed dead by those they love and hence neither waits to be rescued; rather, they grasp the opportunities that come their way and manage to raise themselves from rags to unrivalled fame and fortune. But the similarity ends there. Whereas Edmond Dantes goes on a ruthless rampage of revenge, Joseph seems to have not a single vengeful thought in his mind. And not for lack of opportunity. He is the viceroy of Egypt and his brothers turn to him for help, not realising who he is. They were completely and utterly at his mercy. Dantes would have destroyed them with glee. Joseph repaid their transgressions with love – and interest.  

What is it about Joseph that made him seemingly immune to the desire for revenge? Whilst Dantes is a caricature, at the other end of the scale Joseph is almost inhuman.

I think it’s connected to a characteristic of Joseph that I have talked about before. He lived, walked and breathed God. To Joseph, God was not some abstract ideal, it was a tangible truth. He saw God in himself, in others, in dreams and in the day-to-day happenings of his life. So, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he told them not to worry (and one understands why they might!) because clearly God sent him to Egypt ahead of them in order that he could pave the way for their survival during this famine. In other words and listen to this……as far as Joseph was concerned, his brothers did not sell him into slavery in Egypt, God did! Yes, they were the vessels through which God carried out his will. But, at the end of the day, Joseph would not have been in Egypt if God had not wanted it. So, in Joseph’s eyes, what blame could he attach to his brothers?

To be sure, he recognized their need to take responsibility for their wrong choices and actions – and hence he put on an elaborate performance to get them to see the error of their ways. But that was for them. From his personal point of view, he placed no blame on them for what they had done. He did not ‘forgive’ them. Because, in his eyes, there was simply nothing to forgive. 

Trust in God provides immunity from the desire for revenge. Because when a person realises that the world works only ever in his best interests – and people’s choices contribute to that, whatever their motive – he will feel no desire to take revenge on someone who has done something that has led him to where he needs to be. 

Would that Edmond Dantes had realised this. Prison educated him, both intellectually and emotionally; he became a great man in so many ways. Prison directly led to fame and wealth beyond imagination. Would that he could have seen it, prison was the best thing that happened in his life. But through the lens of his own personal anger and frustration it was impossible for him to see that and so revenge was his only option. For Joseph, the man who walked with God, his brothers had taken part in a divinely ordained plan. The only possible response to them was love. 

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