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Vayiggash 5783        December 31, 2022

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom

This week’s parsha is one of the pivotal moments in the Book of Genesis. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers who react with terror about what Joseph might do to them for selling him into slavery 20 years earlier. Joseph brushes aside all their fears. Joseph wants to know about his family. He wants to know if his father is still alive. He wants to know what is going on in his brothers’ lives. Joseph wants to bring the entire family to Egypt where there is food, and he can protect them from all harm. It becomes a very tearful reunion.

Even Joseph’s boss, Pharoah, is delighted to discover that Joseph has a family, a family of chieftains in their own country. Pharoah will meet with Joseph’s brothers and with Jacob and welcome them to Egypt. The stage is set for a very happy ending to our story. That ending will have to wait for next week. This week focuses on the family reunion.

Rabbi Dr. Mimi Feigelson from the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem had an interesting question about Joseph’s reunion with his family, and she takes her cue from the World Soccer Finals a few weeks ago. This is what she says:

Recently, and honestly, I know nothing about soccer, nothing. So, I didn’t watch the World Cup. I didn’t even watch the last game. I watched the last few minutes of the championship game. I wanted to see that last shot to the net. Who was going to be the winner? I didn’t really care who the winner was going to be, but I wanted to see the moment after.

When they jumped into each other’s hands, and arms. That joy. Actually, really what I wanted to know was what they were saying to each other in that moment.”

Reb Mimi makes a great point. What do we say to each other when our dreams are suddenly fulfilled? What do we say to those who helped our dreams to come true? What do we say to our family and friends? When are hearts are filled with extraordinary joy, what do we say to those who are there to hug in that special moment?

Would we just scream with joy? Would we stop to recall the many moments that led up to our great victory? Would we thank all those who made this special moment possible? Would our attention be drawn to the past as the very root of our joy in this moment?

Or maybe that moment is not about the past. Perhaps, in our joy, we would look instead to the future. Do we anticipate the moment they put that amazing trophy into our hands? Do we think about the fans when they see us lift that trophy proudly in their honor? Do we think about the honors our country might bestow on us? Maybe we might think about what we want from this moment to carry with us forever into the future: a handful of grass from the pitch, a piece of the net from the goal, the uniform we are wearing. Maybe we might think of who we can honor in this time of focused attention, or we might make mention of an important cause in our life. Maybe all we really want in that moment is to think about what it would mean to have our parents or children see and touch the trophy we have worked so hard to win, to see the look of pride in their eyes.

The Torah tells us that Joseph and his brothers fell into each other’s arms and cried. But the Torah does not tell us what they said to each other in that joyful and holy moment. What were they crying about? Did they cry because of the lost years, the years separated from each other because of jealousy anger? Did they cry over the missed moments of the past, the weddings Joseph missed, the birth of children, the successes of their work? Would the brothers, in this wonderful moment, speak to each other about the past?

Or is it possible that they spoke about the future? What will father say when we tell him that Joseph is alive? What will Jacob say when, after all these years of mourning, his favorite son is still alive? Who will get the honor of telling him the good news? Would the brothers talk about coming to Egypt, bringing their family, their flocks, and herds with them? They can’t wait to introduce Joseph to the new members of the family, the spouses, the children, who Joseph never had the chance to know.

What do you think they said? What would you have said in that spectacular moment?

Of course, we were not there. Joseph sent everyone out of the room before he revealed himself to his brothers. The Torah never says at all what was spoken in that moment.

Reb Mimi notes that this week is tucked between two very different holy days on the Jewish calendar. We just finished the holiday of Hanukkah, the time when we recall the miracle of a military victory; the miracle of the last small vial of holy oil; the miracle of rededication; the time we consider all the miracles that happen in our lives.

The other holiday is in the future. It is the tenth day of Tevet. It will be this Tuesday. It is a fast day. It commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army. The siege would last until the summer, until the ninth day of Av when the Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was burned to the ground. In recent times, the tenth of Tevet has become known as “General Kaddish Day.” It is the day we say Kaddish for all of those whom we don’t know the day of their death; the ones from the Holocaust or from other disasters where the date of death is unknown. So, we say Kaddish for them on this fast day, the tenth day of Tevet. This is the day we mourn for those whom we don’t know the date when they disappeared from the earth.

Now the question comes down to us. What would we say to someone who we have not seen for a very long time, and by some miracle, they suddenly are back in our lives? What would we say to those who are gone and by some miracle we could see them, touch them, and speak to them again? Reb Mimi asks us to examine ourselves, to think deeply and seriously about conversations that come about almost as if it were a miracle. Like Joseph and his brothers. She writes:

“And I want to ask you, in that moment, if you were to encounter someone who you wouldn’t have seen in so many years. And that moment, “Ahhhh and we are together! We are back together again.”

What would you tell them? What would you whisper into their ear?

Would it be stories of the past that you haven’t shared? Or would it be stories of a future, of a vision that you have yet to share, yet to create? …

What would that be, those words that you whisper into each other’s ears and then continue to laugh and continue to cry? Cry, there are multiple times we are taught about crying.

I want to ask you, who are these people and what would you share with them? Tears of joy? Tears of sadness? …

… if you met them, would you cry for the past, for what you didn’t share? Or would you cry together for a future that is waiting for (both of you) to greet it together?

I want to offer, suggest, that in these next few days find a neighbor, a grandparent, a great aunt, or uncle that survived, that are still with us.

Look in their eyes and let them look in your eyes. Look in their eyes that see the eyes that saw the eyes that saw the eyes and the stories of the past.

And let them look into your eyes to see the future of the future of the future of the future.

Hug each other, cry together and celebrate the lives that you are living right now.”

What do you think Joseph said to his brothers? What would you say if you were in his shoes?

What did the brothers say to Joseph? What would you say if you were in their shoes?

I think about a woman I knew who had an argument with her brother and they didn’t talk for more than ten years. One day, her brother called her. He had cancer. He was dying. He wanted to see his sister again before he died. She asked me, “Should I go and see him in Florida? After all these years?” I told her to go, to forget what divided them and see her brother. She went. She stayed three months. He died. She stayed on for the funeral before coming home. She told me that it was the most wonderful three months of her life. She cried real tears when he died. I thought about this woman when I read Reb Mimi’s words. I wonder what she and her brother talked about for those three months. Did they speak about the past, the joys in their lives that the other had missed? Did they talk about the future and all the wonderful things waiting to happen? I don’t know what she said to her brother. I only know that they cried. Tears of sorrow and tears of Joy. What would you say if after ten years you had a short time to fit in a lifetime of joy and sorrow?

Crying is not just for the times we feel sorrow. It is also for the times of joy when we experience the great miracle of love and friendship and life. The new year will soon begin. May we fill it with tears of joy as we share our past and our future with the ones we love. May God bless us as God blessed Joseph and his brothers as we say … Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784