Our Parasha, Veyehi, summarizes the stories of the three forefathers that are collected in Bereshit. Jacob, Avraham’s grandson, is living securely in the land of Egypt after his son, Joseph was appointed as deputy to the King and Joseph’s brothers were residing safely in Goshen. Jacob’s final days, as described in this week’s parasha, were dedicated to settling accounts by way of the blessings he gave his sons. Like in his own story, the blessings carry a measure of prophecy, linking the events of the past with the events of the future. In this way, Shimon and Levi, who were known for anger that could not be constrained, were cursed and declared as tribes that would be scattered in every direction. And in contrast, Judah, who is loved, is awarded the blessing that grants him economic prosperity and a position close to his brother, Joseph. Each brother receives his own blessing, their responses to which are not mentioned. They receive their fate in no particular order, and in silence.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Leo Tolstoy)
From previous chapters we are already familiar with the plot of the brothers against the House of Jacob. While they chose to keep silent in the presence of their father, among themselves there emerged a dialogue saturated with their urges, fears, and jealousies. With the conclusion of the period of mourning for their father and after their arduous funeral march back and forth to the Land of Canaan, the ghosts of the past returned with ever greater intensity. These ghosts threatened the familial tranquility and fragile economic and political order.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!"So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before your death your father left this instruction: ‘Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly.’ Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph was in tears as they spoke to him. (Genesis, 50:15-17)
In his way, Joseph who is the youngest of his brothers, is the most farsighted and succeeds in seizing the moment and imbuing it with hope. Not before he understands in tragic fashion, once again, that he is not really part of the group. His estrangement is still apparent and his brothers don’t trust him, despite that his actions saved them and their families from famine.
But Joseph said to them, “Have no fear! Am I a substitute for God? Besides, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result- the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.” Thus he reassured them, speaking to their hearts. (Genesis 50: 19-21)
Economic welfare and political power do not solve issues of faith and belonging
During the seventeen years that Jacob lived with his brothers in the Land of Egypt under the protective wings of Joseph the Deputy of the King, it seemed that the family was back on track. Yet the death of the patriarch at a ripe old age quickly restored the chaos, lack of faith, and feeling of estrangement into the family arena. Joseph, as a leader, does not accept his brothers’ gloomy forecast. In place of their lies and their fears, he establishes hope for coming generations. But nothing is as important as that he spoke from heart to heart. Here he teaches us an important lesson about establishing a healthy family and building a sustainable society.
Dialogue and recognizing of the fears of the other are the keys to grappling with change
We can’t be satisfied with economic and political security. Healthy relations must rest on faith, a positive vision of the future, and above all else, on dialogue. With this we can address the pain, recognize the difficulties and know one another's boundaries.
In these days of political instability and with the cloud of economic insecurity hovering over so many families, Joseph’s story is an invitation for national and familial healing. In it we find a place for deep emotions, feelings, fears, that do not create alienation, but rather an opening for dialogue (that is often not easy) that drives a narrative and a picture of a shared future.
Avrahahm Eisen is BINA's Deputy Director, Education