Vayechi 5779 – Living With Purpose

By: Michael Carr

Narrator:  The Ishmaelites galloped off with a slave in tow, off to Egypt where Joseph was not keen to go; it wouldn’t be a picnic he could tell.

Joseph: And I don’t speak Egyptian very well….   
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and one of the founders of behavioral economics, gave a TED talk on why our experiences and our memories can be so different. Dr. Kahneman’s research reveals that experiences we remember are defined by change. Our stories are made up of experiences that are new, novel and those that have greater significance. In addition, we all possess a Remembering Self that likes endings—how episodes and other individual experiences conclude. So let’s use a very simplified example about say eating dinner to emphasize the importance of the ‘Experience Self’ and ‘Remembering Self’ (Hey – even Virginia Woolf said “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”)

If one were to experience every moment of an exquisite three course Kosher meal all the way through desert at a luxury restaurant AND an unfortunate incident occurs like spilled hot coffee on a new dress or suit – the Experience Self – (that memory) may dominate the story of an otherwise enjoyable dining experience.

Likewise with this weeks torah portion  – maybe OR maybe NOT!  This weeks parasha is about sibling rivalry, reconciliation for past transgressions, forgiveness and it is also about how Jacobs sons past actions caused them great tzuris, guilt and general worry.

The brothers (Jacobs sons) were more tormented about what they had done to Joseph than Joseph was.

WHY —because Joseph’s brothers ‘Remembering Selves’ did not forget about selling their brother into slavery (there is that memory thing again) and they were extremely concerned that Joseph might seek or take revenge on them (followed by the Experience Self thing).  

I mean why not? Would you be a little upset or disturbed if your siblings sold you into slavery?  Sounds like a great narrative for a broadway production . Throughout the book of Genesis there are examples of sibling rivalry – Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau and of course Joseph and his brothers.

However as we know from reading this parasha that things turn out quite differently for Joseph, his brothers and dad Jacob.

As Parasha Vayechi begins with – Jacob is on his death bed.  He calls his sons to join him even though Joseph is “Out of Pocket” as Jacob shares his prophecy of what will happen to each of them.  

And now this from Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat:

“Simeon: It’s funny, but since we lost Joseph, we’ve gone to the other extreme.

Jacob: No-one comes to dinner now!

Simeon: ….We’d only eat them, anyhow, I even find I’m missing Joseph’s Dreams.”

So would you be fearful of your sibling taking revenge on you if you had sold them off into slavery?

And more importantly – how fearful would you be of that sibling  if he had since become 2nd in line to A king? 

Yet – Joseph does none of this. Joseph was not demanding, he did not exhibit anger toward his brothers – in fact from reading the parasha Joseph sounds like he was caring and concerned for the welfare of those around him and his estranged family.

So the mighty Joseph has no intent of harming any of the brothers and in fact may be even it was ‘B’SHERIT’ because he, Joseph, as noted in the Parasha has been busy ‘SAVING LIVES’.  

Can you imagine a GREATER life’s purpose?

The rest as it has been said is – HISTORY -you know Joseph’s uncanny ability for interpreting dreams and sharing those interpretations with the King like the one about emaciated cows, potential famine on the horizon and stock piling grain. 

What is our take-away from all of this?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks asks:
Can brothers live peaceably with one another?

This question is fundamental to the biblical drama of redemption, for if brothers cannot live together, how can nations?

And if nations cannot live together, how can the human world survive?

Look-maybe we should all start living our lives like Joseph- not necessarily like slaves but instead with a purpose.

For me the Parasha reminds me of the starfish and the kid throwing it back into the ocean.  Seth Godin wrote that If you’re a starfish…build your own universe, your own ‘thing’ (that will bring you joy/happiness). Find a tribe, lead it, connect with it, become….. the one and only, the one that we’d miss if you were gone. So remember as Tim Rice wrote in Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat: “No matter how many trials you face or how bad the future looks stay true to yourself and it will be okay”