Vayigash 5782 – Start With I’m Sorry

By: Michael Carr

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

As in past years, this week’s Parsha for me is all about forgiveness and loving ones-self. It starts with Judah, with all of his brothers present, who pleads with the viceroy of Egypt, that his brother Benjamin be set free after Benjamin steals a silver cup from Pharaoh upon a 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 an agreement with the brothers and dad Jacob to protect Benjamin).

The viceroy (brother Joseph) tells his brothers  not to worry about their past transgressions (you know the plot they [the brothers] carried out for throwing Joseph into a pit and subsequently selling him into slavery, hiding this from their dad etc.- OH AND BY THE WAY all of this supposedly Judah’s idea).  In an act of forgiveness, instead of hard labor, harsh words or some other negative acts,  the twelve brothers get together for a group hug.

Josephs forgiveness was framed 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. Joseph, in spite of his brothers jealousy, (remember, they thought Joseph was THE favored son of Jacob), the plan was actually put into motion by G-d to save Joseph,  his brothers, the entire extended family of Jacob and future generations of Israelites.

To further express his love and kindness, Joseph (and Pharaoh), give the brothers many presents, to bring back to Jacob along with the news (SURPRISE) Joseph was alive. Jacob gets all 70 family members together, and moves to Egypt.  The family reunites, settles in Goshen, the Children of Israel flourish, until, slavery envelopes the Israelites and it’s time to leave again.

This parasha got me thinking, ‘Does G-d speak to us without actually speaking to us?’.  You know, when Joseph reframes how he was cast away from his family first in a pit and then sold to traders and years later is appointed number two of the Egyptian empire.

Another ‘takeaway’ was Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers and allow the brothers to forgive themselves.  One would think his brother’s suffered 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?

Many medical/mental health web sites reference that, ‘…forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps one get 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 (drama) of ‘hormones out of control’.

Let’s recall from this paraphrased parasha interpretation, the first thing Joseph says to Judah and his brothers is, “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 Joseph transcended past transgressions and is determined to move forward with his life and his families. It seems as if he had already prepared to forgive his siblings and simply wants to put the past behind and reconnect with his family while managing the Egyptian empire during a time of famine (not too shabby for a guy who started out  as a sheep herder).

Unlike his brothers, he has let go of feelings of anger, resentment and retribution. Joseph is present and has purpose. His brothers on the other hand, 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 focused on saving lives far beyond that of his father and brothers.

Upon revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph provided a roadmap for present and future generations by granting 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 all 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 saved from what could have been years of therapy).

So maybe forgiving ourselves more will allow us to move on with life more often.  In a 2018 Healthline article, “How to Forgive Yourself”, Sara Lindberg, suggests 12 steps.  Here are four of them:

1) Focus on Your Emotions – acknowledge & process your emotions
2) Get Clear About What You Want – reconcile, apologize and make amends – this allows us to move beyond guilt
3) Show Kindness & Compassion – start with yourself and remember you are worthy of forgiveness
4) Consider Mistake(s) Made a Learning Experience – perhaps we or the party who offended, did the best they could, with the emotions and ‘other resources’ available, at the time of the grievance

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 self-love, 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!