Vayigash (Genesis 44:18−47:27)

Comments sent out 7 years ago, with current comments on the comments in italics:

This week’s portion is a good anti-example of the saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  That is, each year the story stays the same, but how we look at it keeps changing.  When I was a child … I saw…this week’s portion as the archetypal happy ending following last week’s archetypal cliffhanger (would Benjamin be saved?). Jacob learns Joseph is alive, the whole family is reunited, and everyone makes up and lives happily ever after, until their descendants are enslaved.  And yes, there are a lot of those “Hollywood ending” elements.  Judah, who was the one who suggested selling Joseph, shows himself to have become a mensch as he pleads eloquently on Benjamin’s behalf and offers to stay in his place.  Joseph forgives his brothers for being rotten to him, saying it was part of the Lord’s plan.  Not only do Pharaoh and his household approve of the presence of the brothers, but Pharaoh tells Joseph to bring the entire clan down and they’ll live off the fat of the land.   

But, as I grew up, I became aware of other elements.  Joseph weeps when he reveals his identity to his brothers and embraces them, but their reaction is not recorded, except for Benjamin, who also weeps.  When Joseph and Jacob meet, only Joseph weeps (there are some commentators who think it was Jacob who wept – minority opinion, which I considered in a d’var Torah at my synagogue a few years ago).  Perhaps their relationship after 22 years of silence has some strains.  However, note that Jacob only comes to Egypt when the Lord tells him to, and he is told they will be there for a long time (long enough to become a nation), not just until the famine is over, so perhaps Jacob realizes this is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy told to his grandfather Abraham (“strangers in a strange land,” “400 years,” etc.), and so is less overjoyed than Joseph is.  

Also, Joseph has smoothly assimilated into Egyptian society and has an Egyptian wife and two sons; the firstborn’s name (41:51) is Manasseh, meaning, “God has made me forget completely my hardship and my parental home,” so, perhaps he too has mixed feelings about his family’s presence.  The brothers are shepherds, and since “all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians” (46:34) they and their livestock are settled in Goshen, where they can keep a low profile in foreigner-averse Egypt. (This also shields them from Egyptian cultural influences.  Joseph is strong enough to function in Egyptian society without losing his identity as a Hebrew, but most of the brothers don’t seem strong enough for – well, much of anything.) Jacob, at his royal audience, complains, in response to Pharaoh’s attempt at small talk, that his 130 years have been “few and hard” (47:9) and walks out (the archetypal grumpy old man).  My guess is that Joseph was relieved to sequester his family in Goshen, away from the court and from him.  

Then, we read that, as the famine worsens, Joseph comes up with a plan to make all the Egyptians, except the priests, serfs of Pharaoh in exchange for food, which I found appalling when this little section was pointed out to me.  But I learned a few years ago that such serfdom was rather common in the area at the time and that Joseph’s terms (“only” 20% went to Pharaoh) were actually pretty good in context. 

Next time, we’ll finish Joseph’s story and the book of Genesis. 

Shabbat shalom,


Hallmark Cards for Dysfunctional Families (selections)

Hallmark Cards has a new division that is targeted toward the growing
group of dysfunctional families. Here is a sample of their new cards.

2. I must admit, you brought religion into my life…
(Inside card) – I never believed in Hell until I met you.

4. Congratulations on your promotion. Before you go…
(Inside card) – Will you take the knife from my back?  You may need it again.

6. Happy Birthday! You look great for your age…
(Inside card) – Almost lifelike.

8. We’ve been friends for a very long time…
(Inside card) – What do you say we stop?

9I’m miserable without you… 
(Inside card) – It’s almost like you’re still here.

10. Congratulations on your new bundle of joy…
(Inside card) – Did you ever find out who the father is?

12. Your friends and I wanted to do something really special for your birthday…
(Inside card) – So we’re having you put to sleep. 

13. Happy birthday Uncle Dad!
(Available only in Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia and Florida)


Family Reunion



Telecom Family Reunion



Ode to cranky men

I chanced to pass a window
While walking through a mall
With nothing much upon my mind,
Quite blank as I recall. I noticed in that window
A cranky-faced old man,
And why he looked so cranky
I didn’t understand. Just why he looked at ME that way
Was more than I could see
Until I came to realize
That cranky man was ME!

—————————-  [dead link]

Dear Avigal, written by Mindy Davids and Jeffrey Marx.  [Excerpts that I last sent out 6 years ago.]

Dear Avigal: 
Five years ago, my partner and I disbanded our business. We had worked side by side for a decade. Our families even vacationed together. Then, in a dispute over bonuses, one word led to another, and we split up. After five years of not seeing him, not speaking to him, I felt bad. Then I remembered the story of Joseph and his brothers. Despite being sold into slavery by his siblings, Joseph forgave them completely…I decided that if Joseph could do it, I could too! 

I called my former partner. We had dinner together, we shmoozed about the past, we talked honestly about our falling out. Since then, we talk on the phone at least once a month. But I just learned that his daughter is being married in a month’s time, and he didn’t even invite me! 

So much for making peace!

Hurt and Confused. 

Dear Hurt and Confused: 
The bum! What ingratitude, after you went out of your way to make peace! My advice is to find yourself a better friend.


Dear Avigal: 
Did you ever stop to consider that not all reconciliations have fairy-tale endings? It’s true that my brother Joseph hugged and kissed us in the throne room and brought us down to Egypt, but did you ever consider where we ended up living? While we were stuck with the sheep in Goshen, my brother continued living in the palace! (Gen. 47:11) We had to send word to him when our father was on his deathbed, that’s how seldom he came to visit. (Gen. 48:1) [in next week’s portion. IGP] 

Believe me, after our father died, my brothers and I feared that now Joseph was going to exact his revenge. That’s why we concocted the story that on his deathbed, Jacob had asked Joseph to forgive us. (Gen. 50:15-17) We weren’t close to Joseph when we sold him, why should a few tears and a hug-especially after so many years had passed-suddenly make us one happy family? Tell Hurt and Confused to grow up!

Reuben, son of Jacob 

Dear Avigal: 
Reconciliation is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Believe me, I know. I did a terrible thing to my brother many years ago involving our father’s inheritance. We didn’t see each other for years. I couldn’t sleep, I kept wrestling with my conscience. Finally, I sent him a note and we arranged to meet. When we saw each other, he fell on my neck and we wept like babies. He invited me to his home to spend time with his wife and kids. I accepted, but at the last minute I decided not to go. (Gen. 33:12-17) What more could I say to him? We were never close growing up; our values were completely different. Tell Hurt and Confused not to get his hopes up too high!

Jacob, son of Isaac 

Dear Avigal: 
I can’t believe your readers’ responses to Hurt and Confused! Theirs is a most depressing way of looking at the world and our role in making it a better place. How am I ever going to announce the coming of the messianic age with such attitudes?! … We must believe that we can make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others by embracing darchei shalom, the paths of peace.


Reconciliation Quotes

We are all one – or at least we should be – and it is our job, our duty, and our great challenge to fight the voices of division and seek the salve of reconciliation. Roy Barnes

Chimps are very quick to have a sudden fight or aggressive episode, but they’re equally as good at reconciliation. Jane Goodall

In 1994, when I went back to Haiti from exile, we established a Commission for Truth and Justice and Reconciliation. I passed the documents to the next government, and I never heard about it again. Jean-Bertrand Aristide






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