Vayigash – 5781 – Begin with Forgiveness

By: Michael Carr

“Change isn’t made by asking permission. Change is made by asking forgiveness, later”   Seth Godin

This week’s Parsha begins with Judah, in the presence of his brothers, pleading with the viceroy of Egypt, that his brother Benjamin be set free after Benjamin steals a silver cup from Pharaoh upon his last visit to the Egyptian palace. Judah offers to switch places with Benjamin to become a prisoner or slave (of course Judah was following through on his verbal agreement with his brothers and dad Jacob to protect Benjamin).

As we find out, the viceroy reveals himself as their brother Joseph.  He then goes on to tell his brothers  not to worry about their past transgression for selling him into slavery years before (supposedly Judah’s idea).  In fact in a celebration of the news of forgiveness the twelve brothers came close together and hug on another.

The explanation that I came across for this act of forgiveness has Joseph reframe the prophetic story for his brothers as G-d’s plan. It’s a plan of evolution to save Jacob’s family as well as future generations of Israelites. According to Joseph, in spite of the brothers jealousy, (remember, they thought Joseph was the favored son of Jacob), the plan was actually put into motion by G-d to eventually help save Joseph,  his brothers, the entire extended family of Jacob and future generations of Israelites.

To further express his love and kindness, Joseph (along with Pharaoh), gave the brothers many presents, to bring back to Jacob along with the news that Joseph was alive. The Parasha continues with Jacob then getting all 70 family members together, and moving to Egypt.  The family is reunited and they settle in Goshen, where the Children of Israel will flourish, until, of course, slavery is imposed upon the Israelites and it’s time to leave again.

In my review of scholarly material for this D’var there were two takeaways for me.  The first is, ‘Does G-d speak to us without actually speaking to us?’.  This is related to Joseph’s reframing of how he was cast away from his family first in a pit and then sold to traders and ultimately is appointed number two of the Egyptian empire.

Since there is much to unpack from this lesson alone and too much for the remaining four minutes of this D’var,  another of the most important Parasha ‘takeaways’ for me is Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers in order to allow his brothers to forgive themselves.  One would think his brother’s must have been suffering extensively from guilt and remorse because their father Jacob’s diminished enthusiasm for life over the loss of his son.

So how do we forgive ourselves?  Is it the same as forgiving others?

According to the Mayo Clinic website, “Forgiveness can lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you…. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.”   Indeed, this seems to be the goal and outcome from Joseph’s impassioned conversation with Judah and his brothers.  Joseph has certainly had enough time to think and forgive himself during his over-confident and defiant ‘teenage years’ that may have provoked the angst amongst his brothers to take care of a ‘perceived problem’ that was probably no more than a misunderstanding/mis-interpretation of ‘hormones out of control’.

Let’s recall from the parasha, in a paraphrased context, the first thing Joseph says to Judah and his brothers is essentially, “I am your brother who you sold into slavery, how is dad AND don’t worry about your past transgressions. I made it here due to G-ds plan for us and I forgive you anyway.”  Ironically, as we know, the famine had impacted Joseph’s family and brought them back together and Joseph seems to have a sense of urgency to “make things right again” as soon as possible.

So why forgive oneself?

Some of us are much harder on ourselves than we are on others and that includes how we manage our ability to forgive others and ourselves.  Reading ‘between the lines’ of the Torah portion it appears as though Joseph has transcended past transgressions and is determined to move forward with his life and that of his families. It seems as if he had already prepared to forgive his siblings and simply wanted to put the past behind and reconnect with his family while he managed the Egyptian empire during a time of famine (not too shabby for a guy whose humble beginnings started with sheep herding).

Unlike his brothers, he has let go of feelings of anger, resentment and retribution. Joseph has become present. His brothers on the other hand, had carried the burden of guilt for years and had become stuck in a remorseful life situation.  In a restorative way, Joseph learned from his mistakes and was now focused on saving lives far beyond that of his father and brothers.

Upon revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph provided a roadmap and gave permission to his brothers to forgive themselves for past transgressions.

To me it’s as if Joseph eliminates years of bad feelings his brothers have carried inside themselves by simply communicating the need for them to re-unite.  It allowed his brothers to learn to forgive themselves simply by learning from the example Joseph had become (not to mention all the time they were able to save from what could have been years of therapy).

So forgiving oneself is an important aspect of moving forward with one’s life.  In an article, “Taking the Steps to Forgive Yourself” found on VeryWellMind.com from Amy Morin, LCSW, here are four steps we can all take to forgive ourselves:

1) Accept responsibility – show compassion to yourself
2) Express remorse – overcome guilt, remorse and shame to express/embrace positive feelings
3) Repair damage & restore trust – when we make amends it allows us to move beyond guilt
4) Renewal – learn from mistakes to avoid self-hatred and move forward in life

Finally – once we have forgiven ourselves it becomes easier to be present and love our-self, our life.

The next time you want to measure or question the love you have for yourself, consider this quote from Kamal Rivkant, from his book,  ‘Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It’:   “If I loved myself truly and deeply, would I let myself experience this?”

Good Shaabos!