Joseph: The Continuing Saga

parashas Vayigash 5781


Joseph’s identity, hidden from his brothers, was revealed to them in a moment of time, wherein they had a private audience with the Egyptian ruler, who knew them, yet, they did not recognise him. Previously, up until that moment, they had seen him as a cruel ruler, who held his authority over them, inasmuch as he could do as he pleased: through intimidating them by placing them in jail three days; demanding that they return with their youngest brother; otherwise, they would not be able to see him, thereby obtaining necessary food during the famine; and, finally, taking Benjamin as a servant, under false charges. Their perception of him changed, when he said, “I am Joseph” (Genesis 45:3).

Joseph himself had previously told them, in regard to the incident whereof, he kept Simeon as a hostage, until they return with Benjamin, instead of keeping them all in prison, that he fears G-d. No light statement from an Egyptian ruler; yet, the brothers may not have accepted this statement as sincere. Now, they see his sincerity demonstrated, inasmuch that he shows them kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, the very qualities valued in Abrahamic legacy. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do his commandments; his praise endures for ever” (Psalms 111:10, Tanach Bible).

When Jacob arrived in Egypt with his family, his son, Joseph, harnessed his chariot and went out to greet him. Joseph provided for his family to live in the land of Goshen – a land removed from Egypt proper. As a consequence of their living in this location, they were isolated to some extent from the rest of Egyptian society. They had more freedom to follow the patriarchal ways of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and foster the character traits that they represented, as opposed to getting caught up in the idolatrous ways, and immorality of their neighbors.

Yet, even in the midst of the uncertainty, doubt, and fear, that settled in years later, after the children of Israel became enslaved in Egypt, there was the promise of hope in the redeemer. Before Joseph passed away, he told his brother, pekod pekodti, a redeemer will reveal himself to you. “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24). The first redeemer, Moses, freed us from the shackles of Egypt, and brought us to Sinai, where through the covenant, we became obligated to to following the commandments, the first step in becoming a people unto G-d.

Passover Reflections

B”H

14 Nissan 5780

March 8, 2020

Passover preparations, ideally performed in a meticulous manner, especially in regard to removing any speck of chometz (leavened products) that might be left after removing items like breads and cereals from the cupboards, may be viewed as a transition from ordinary time into redemptive time.

The seder, a traditional 2-4 hour meal, inclusive of various foods eaten for their symbolic value, plus the reading of the Hagaddah (Exodus narrative, embellished with songs and commentaries), is the way we relive our Redemption from slavery in Egypt. Each food represents part of the experience leading towards Redemption.

The search for chometz, in and of itself, is symbolic. Chometz represents sin, pride, and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). As meticulous as we may be in our search for crumbs, we need to look inside ourselves, as well, in order to bring to light what lurks in the darkness of our personalities. Then, we may transition from being enslaved to our yetzer hara, into the freedom of our redemptive selves, wherein we seek to follow our yetzer tov (good inclination).

“Depart from evil, and do good;

seek peace, and pursue it.”

– Psalm 34:14, JPS 1917 Tanach