Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

We have reached the climax of the Joseph story.  Judah eloquently pleads to Joseph on Benjamin’s behalf, emphasizing the pain his remaining in Egypt would cause his father and offering himself as a substitute slave.  At this, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, who are dumbfounded, and tells them not to worry, their selling him was all part of God’s plan, which has enabled him to save many lives. Then, since the famine has five years to run, he arranges for the whole family to come down to Egypt (70 souls, whose names are all listed for the Torah reader to slog through).  Jacob hesitates, though he wants to see Joseph, but the Lord assures him that this is what he is supposed to do.  And so, they all live happily ever after in Goshen.

Not exactly.  While the brothers do indeed regret how they treated Joseph at 17, they never actually apologize to him, nor do they trust his good will to be permanent.  When they are presented to Pharaoh, they ignore the instructions Joseph gave them. When Jacob is introduced to Pharaoh, Joseph’s boss, he kvetches about how miserable his life has been.  They were settled in Goshen because it was good pasture land and they could they could be shepherds without offending Egyptian sensibilities; but their sequestration was probably a relief to all concerned, including Joseph.  We are also left wondering what Jacob has been able to figure out as to the brothers’ role in Joseph’s disappearance.  And why did Joseph never notify, or even check on, Jacob, at least during the years he has been in power?  The commentators have a variety of answers for this last one, none of which I find really convincing.

The tense family dynamics in the Joseph story can be probed by focusing on one element: tears.  Who cries, when, and why.  So, I’ve inserted below some excerpts of a d’var Torah I gave 14 years ago about this:

“To be able to weep indicates you can both feel and express deep emotions.  Esau weeps when he’s tricked out of his blessing.  Jacob weeps with joy when he meets Rachel.

“In our story, Joseph weeps several times.  He does not weep when he is thrown into the pit, when he is sold as a slave, when he is thrown into prison, or when he’s forgotten there.  He tends to weep at times of emotion-laden insight.  For example, he cries when he first sees his brothers in Egypt (Gen. 42:24) and hears them expressing regret for their actions toward him years earlier. 

“Next, he cries when he reveals his identity (Gen. 45:1-2) and when he kisses each of them.  But only Benjamin cries as well.  The other brothers do not.  They are emotionally stuck and cannot fully accept Joseph’s assurances that he has indeed forgiven them and that what they did was part of God’s plan.  And so, they cannot weep.

“When Joseph meets Jacob, the Hebrew is not clear as to which one of them weeps. To Ramban, it is clear: ‘It is well known who is crying – the aged father who discovers, after years of despair and mourning, that his son is alive.’  I agree with the commentary of R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who wrote, ‘Yosef wept.  Yaacov did not weep.  Yosef could still weep.  Yaakov was finished with weeping, because he had wept enough in his life…Since he had missed Yosef, Yaakov had not ceased from weeping…Yosef…had had no time to give himself up so much to the pain of separation…Now when he fell round his father’s neck again, he felt all the more what the separation had really meant to him,..  Yaakov had already become Israel.  Yosef still wept.”

“When Jacob dies (we’ll read about that next week) and the brothers fear Joseph’s benevolence will end, Joseph weeps again, frustrated and saddened at their lack of faith.  While he has been able to forgive them, they still have not been able to forgive themselves.  They still cannot weep.”

The Torah portion ends as Joseph’s work for Pharaoh eventually results in serfdom for most Egyptians, in which they give 20% of their income to Pharaoh.  This wasn’t really very harsh, in comparison with common practice at the time, but it does provide ironic foreshadowing of the later enslavement of the Israelites.

Shabbat shalom,


Family Reunions

Family reunions are when relatives gather from all over to be reminded why they scattered in the first place.

Alfred E. Neuman
fictional mascot and cover boy of Mad, an American humor magazine

Family reunions is that time when you come face to face with your family tree, and you realize some branches need to be cut.

Rene Hicks
American comedian

I had to go back to New York recently for a family reunion… I walk in there, I look at everyone, and I think: ‘I’m getting my tubes tied; that’s it; the tree ends here.’

Cathy Ladman
American stand-up comedian, television writer & actor


tph black sheet


Immigration Jokes

“As you know, Arizona recently passed the toughest anti-immigration bill in American history. The idea behind this bill is to drive illegal immigrants out of Arizona and back to their homeland of Los Angeles.

“I called the governor’s office in Arizona today, and the recorded message said press one for English, press two for English, press three for English.

“It’s an unbelievable law. And it’s already starting to backfire. Today, a group of Native Americans pulled over a bunch of white guys and said, ‘Let’s see your papers.’” —Jay Leno


tph kvetchasketch



Dysfunctional Family Bingo

This is one of my favorite games, though it involves considerable preparation. A few weeks before the holidays, gather with friends and provide each person with a bingo card. Each player fills in her bingo squares with dysfunctional phrases or actions that are likely to surface at her particular family party. For example, if you dread the inevitable “So when are you going to get married?” that question goes in one square of your bingo card. If your brother typically shows up crocked to the gills, put “Al is drunk” in another square, and so on.

Take your finished cards to your respective family gatherings. Whenever you observe something that appears on your bingo card, mark off that square. The first person to get bingo must sneak off to call the other players, and announce her victory. If no one has a full bingo, the person who has the largest number of filled-out squares wins the game. The winner shall be determined at the post-holiday meeting, where she will be granted the ever gratifying free lunch.


Quotes about Crying

Crying is cleansing. There’s a reason for tears, happiness or sadness. Dionne Warwick

When I was two, a dragonfly flew near me. A man knocked it to the ground and trod on it. I remember crying because I’d caused the dragonfly to be killed. Jane Goodall

I suppose I’ve always done my share of crying, especially when there’s no other way to contain my feelings. I know that men ain’t supposed to cry, but I think that’s wrong. Crying’s always been a way for me to get things out which are buried deep, deep down. When I sing, I often cry. Crying is feeling, and feeling is being human. Oh yes, I cry. Ray Charles

I’ve laughed, and I’ve cried. Laughing has got it over crying. Glen Campbell

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