Vayigash 5779 – I Always Like a Happy Ending

By: Larry Tobin

Last week in Parshat Miketz we learned about the trials and tribulations of Joseph in Egypt as he  progressed from inmate to number two man in Egypt. We learned about the entry into Egypt of ten of his brothers seeking grain and supplies. This was followed by the detaining of Simon by Joseph as the  other brothers were sent back to Canaan to return with their missing youngest brother, Benjamin. Benjamin, you will please recall, is the only full brother of Joseph as they were the only two sons borne  by Rachel.    Upon their return to Egypt with Benjamin, the now eleven brothers are greeted by Joseph  with apparent kindness as their sacks are laden with grain and supplies for their return to their father  Jacob in Canaan. Unbeknownst to them, there sacks are overladen as Joseph has planted in Benjamin’s  sack his royal goblet. Shortly after the brothers leave Egypt to return home, they are met by none other  than Joseph’s royal guard demanding a search of their belongings as someone had stolen the Royal  Goblet of Joseph. After the goblet is found in Benjamin’s sack, the brothers are escorted back to Egypt  to face their punishment. It is at this point that Vayigash picks up.

Joseph orders the imprisonment of Benjamin. Judah pleads with Joseph and points out that there were  originally twelve brothers, but one was torn apart by animals. Only Benjamin remains as a live son of  Rachel, beloved wife of their father Jacob. If Benjamin does not return to Canaan, it will kill Jacob. Judah pleads with Joseph to take him (Judah) instead of Benjamin. At this point, Joseph can no longer compose himself. He breaks down in tears and announces that he is Joseph. The brothers are sent home to return  to Egypt with their father and live in the fertile land of Goshen. Seventy individuals return to Egypt. After  twenty-two years, Jacob is finally reunited with Joseph.

Why the ruse by Joseph? Wasn’t he happy to see his brothers? Or was he angry that they had sold him  into slavery? Maybe he had mixed emotions? After all, didn’t bad turn into good? Why didn’t the  brothers recognize Joseph from the get go? Why the sudden change of attitude by Joseph after the plea of Judah? Clearly, a careful examination of this saga is in order.  

A good starting point is to remember that Joseph is a very spiritual individual. He is the type of person who believes that G-d has a plan for him and that he must retain his faith that all is for the best. Although this would not excuse his brothers’ despicable action of selling him into slavery, it would at least help to explain it. So why didn’t Joseph simply identify himself from the start and tell his brothers that all is forgiven and all is well?

Joseph is also the type of person who believes that one must atone for his sins. Joseph fully recognized  that before family unity could be restored, it was necessary that some act of contrition occur. It would  have been far too easy for the brothers to say that they were sorry and thereby become part of the  royal family. The plea of Judah in the eyes of Joseph was a genuine act of repentance. The time was ripe, therefore, for family reunification.

Why didn’t the brothers recognize Joseph?  He recognized them. Twenty -two years had passed since  they had last seen Joseph. The last time they saw him, he was a young lad. Now he was a grown man. Also, he appeared to them in royal garb and adorned to appear Egyptian. But shouldn’t the name Joseph  have raised some eyebrows? Joseph is not the name that he was called in Egypt. Pharaoh had given him  the name Zaphnath-Paaneah which means “the man to whom mysteries are revealed”. It is perfectly  reasonable and understandable, therefore,  that the brothers would not have recognized Joseph.

Don’t you love a happy ending? I do.

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