Commentary for Vayigash

29 Dec

In this week’s parshah, Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers and sends them to collect his father and the rest of the family and bring them down to Egypt to live in comfort and escape the famine that has rocked the entire region. Along with the brothers, he sent his father both ten male donkeys laden with the best goods in the land of Egypt, and ten female donkeys laden with grain.


Female donkeys are only given as part of a gift in two other places in the entire Torah. The first is by Pharaoh as reparations to Abraham for kidnapping Sarah, and the second is when Jacob sends a tribute to Esau before returning to Cana’an, hoping that the gift will quell Esau’s rage if it is still burning after twenty years. In both of these instances, the she-donkeys are given as part of a peace-offering as reparations for a harm, whether it be real (as in the case of Pharaoh’s kidnapping of Sarah) or perceived (as with Esau’s belief that Jacob stole the birthright that Esau had sold to him many years before).


But what harm did Joseph do to his father that would require him to make reparations? The best answer seems to be that despite being second-in-command of Egypt for a over a decade, Joseph has not yet even attempted to let his father know that he is still alive. The question then becomes “why has Joseph let his beloved father live with the anguish of believing his son to be dead when it was well within his power to inform his father that he was not only alive, but doing extremely well?”


Joseph’s comments to his brothers when he reveals his identity to them (Gen. 43: 3-13) indicate that Joseph believed himself to be acting in accordance with a Divine plan. Everything that has happened to him since his brother sold him into slavery was done to put him in his position at this time so that he could save the family from starvation in the famine. And he seems to have been right.


But what if he was wrong? What if Jacob’s family managed to survive the famine without needing to go to Egypt for food? Would Joseph ever have revealed to his father that he was still alive if his brothers had not come down to Egypt to beg for food? What if he had just kept waiting for a moment of destiny that was never destined to be?


Although events had just proven Joseph’s belief to be correct, he still felt the need to make reparations to his father for the years of unnecessary anguish he had caused him. Even when we act with the best of intentions, it is still possible that our actions cause harm to others, and it is up to us to do what we can to apologize for this harm, even if our actions prove to have been correct in the end.

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