Parshas Vayigash: Lost and Found

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash, we learn of one of the most dramatic, climactic, emotional and riveting narratives in Sefer Bereishis.  After having been disposed of by his brothers, and subsequently sold twenty-two years earlier, and seemingly having been lost forever – in a sense, “disappeared off the face of the earth” – the viceroy of Egypt, the most powerful man in antiquity, reveals himself to be none other than Yosef.

When he can no longer hold himself back from his brothers, Yosef orders that all Egyptians leave the room.  In a moment filled with rising drama and tension, the viceroy lifts his voice and cries, וַיִּתֵּן אֶתקֹלוֹ, בִּבְכִי; וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ מִצְרַיִם, וַיִּשְׁמַע בֵּית פַּרְעֹהand Yosef gave forth his voice with weeping; and Egypt heard and Pharaoh’s household heard (Bereishis 45:1-2).  Before his bewildered and terrified brothers, Yosef then declares: אֲנִי יוֹסֵף, הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי, I am Joseph, is my father still alive?  וְלֹאיָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ, כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו, and his brothers could not answer him, for they were astonished before him (v.3).

After reassuring them that this was all Divinely ordained and orchestrated, Yosef commands his brothers to ascend to Canaan, to father, and to bring Yaakov and his family – en masse – down to Egypt, where he would settle them in the territory of Goshen.  In this way, Yosef would be able to provide for his family during the ensuing years of famine.  Moreover, according to the Divine plan, this move to Egypt was the beginning of galus, and shibud, Mitzrayim.

When the brothers come up to Yaakov in Canaan, they deliver news that is – quite literally – unbelievable.  וַיַּגִּדוּ לוֹ לֵאמֹר, עוֹד יוֹסֵף חַי, וְכִיהוּא מֹשֵׁל, בְּכָלאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ, כִּי לֹאהֶאֱמִין לָהֶםand they told him (Yaakov) saying: Yosef is still alive, and that he is the ruler over the entire land of Egypt; and his heart overturned, for he did not believe them (45:26).

What did Yaakov not believe?  In a famous teaching on this verse, it is explained that Yaakov did not believe that his righteous son Yosef, to whom he taught all that he learned in Yeshivas Shem v’Ever (see 37:3 with Onkelos and Rashi), could have been living in the immoral, idol-worshipping, decadent Egypt for over two decades, and still be spiritually alive.  Could it be that Yosef the righteous is spiritually alive, even while he holds the position of ruler over Egypt?!  It is this that gives Yaakov his feeling of disbelief upon hearing that Yosef still lives.

The Torah ha’Kedosha is eternal, and every lesson and message has relevance to all times and all ages.  What is the deeper message in Yaakov’s concerns and hopes for his son, Yosef?

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm z’l beautifully and powerfully teaches, “אֵלֶּה תֹּלְדוֹת יַעֲקֹב: יוֹסֵף and these are the generations of Jacob – Joseph! (Bereishis 37:1)  The consummation of the story of Jacob can be found in the story of Joseph (Derashot Ledorot, Genesis, p.190).

“… Let us learn from Jacob’s strength, from his great merit… Jacob thought that Joseph had died.  He mourned for him for much longer than the one year that the Jewish tradition prescribes.  When his sons and the rest of his family tried to console him after this year, he proved inconsolable.  He refused to be consoled.  His mourning continued unabated, his grief without cease.  Why so? Is it normal and advisable to allow one’s mourning to abate after a year?  The rabbis, quoted by Rashi, answer that one does not accept consolation for the living.  It is possible to listen to the advice of friends and dear ones who ask us to reconcile ourselves to the loss of a dead relative, but no one can reconcile himself to the loss of one who still lives.  And Jacob knew, by virtue of his ruach ha’kodesh, his holy spirit, by some prophetic intuition… that Joseph was still alive!  In his bones, in his heart, in his soul, he knew that his spiritual posterity, his beloved Joseph, his favorite child, was eclipsed – but not lost forever.  That is why he refused to be reconciled to the eternal loss of this child.

“Many of us find ourselves, unfortunately, in a similar situation.  We do all we can for our children, we try our very best.  We sacrifice comfort and convenience, and express our devotion in every way we know.  But then we find that we have failed.  The Josephs leave, and they are gone – seemingly forever.  We spend our lives in all kinds of difficulties in order to continue the tradition of our forebears, only to discover that our children have betrayed our way of life.  Shall we give up hope?  Shall we, in our heart of hearts, declare them lost to Judaism?  The answer is: No! Change techniques, try a different method, above all use the advice and counsel of the sainted Baal Shem Tov: Love him more!  Do not give up hope for any child.  We do not have the moral right to do so.  Of course, it happens often, much too often, that these Josephs are lost to us, and do not return.  But there are some that do.  For their sake, we must never give up hope in our own individual cases as they touch our lives.

“If we wait, if we try, if we hope, if we pray – we may yet hear those blessed words after so many years: Od Yosef chai!  Joseph still lives!  We may find that – miracle of miracles! – Joseph will seek reconciliation with Jacob, and that if Joseph does not do so, then Joseph’s children will.  Somehow, sometime, somewhere, they will return and we will find our fulfillment in the generations that follow us.  Ki lo yidach mimenu nidachwe do not give up hope for any Jew!  We are stubborn in our love and relentless in our loyalty and adamant in our refusal to succumb to despair.  It is this hope which will give us the strength to continue.  For it is this hope and this prayer and this dream that defines the ve’eleh toldos of each and every one of us” (Derashot Ledorot, Genesis, p.192-193).

Just as the spiritual challenges facing Yosef in the Egyptian exile were very great; so too, the spiritual challenges facing our children – and so many Jews – in this exile are very great indeed.  Yet with hope, prayers, and eternal faith in G-d, we will never give up on any child.  For the Jewish soul always burns bright, וַיֹּאמֶר, יִשְׂרָאֵל, רַב עוֹדיוֹסֵף בְּנִי, חָיAnd Yisrael said: There is much! My son Yosef still lives! (45:28).

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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