Vayigash (Genesis 44:18 – 47:27)

When I went to grad school, I was not prepared for how cold it would be.  I don’t mean the weather. Yes, this was Boston, but I had a heavy wool coat and, after some months of neglect, very long hair (past my waist) that was like an extra sweater.  I mean an emotional coldness, not cruelty or meanness, but an inability to connect emotionally.  It was so cold in my department that, when a senior grad student died (of an illness, I think lymphoma), we only learned of it because someone moved into his desk.  And one did not indulge in casual hugs (greetings, farewells, comfort, reassurance, and the like), at least not when sober.  So, since my boyfriend was over a thousand miles away, I had no hugs for months at a time.  But I survived, we got married, and now I hug and am hugged a whole lot, enough to more than make up for that cold time so long ago.

Which brings us to this week’s Torah portion.

Judah pleads eloquently on behalf of Benjamin (and Jacob, who would be destroyed by grief were Benjamin lost to him) and offers himself as Joseph’s slave in place of his youngest brother.   Moved by Judah’s plea and the other brothers’ apparently sincere regret at how they’d treated him 22 years before, Joseph reveals his identity and immediately asks after his father.  He is very emotional, embracing and kissing his brothers. He tries to reassure them (Gen. 45:5-7):

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.  It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance.”

The brothers return to Canaan, tell Jacob Joseph’s true fate, and the whole household comes down to Egypt to live in Goshen under Joseph’s and Pharaoh’s protection. Jacob is reassured by the Lord that they should go down to Egypt, for it is there that they will become a great nation. Egypt is saved from famine.  And they all live happily ever after…

At least they do in the Sunday School version.  As I wrote 6 years ago, “Reality is more complex:  Joseph’s older brothers don’t respond warmly to his revelation, unable to accept his genuine forgiveness.  Jacob wants to see Joseph but is uncertain about moving to Egypt and needs divine reassurance.  And, while the family is allowed to live peacefully in Goshen, they no doubt cause Joseph some embarrassment, as Egyptians have a low opinion of shepherds, and Jacob kvetches about his short (he’s 130), miserable life when he is introduced to Pharaoh.  Moreover, in Joseph’s business model, the Egyptians are saved from death, but in exchange, they become serfs of Pharaoh (though the 20% rate they pay isn’t bad in context), an ironic foreboding of the Hebrew slavery to come.”

Also ironically, despite his readiness to weep and to embrace his brothers, he doesn’t truly connect with them, except perhaps Benjamin, the only one who tearfully hugs and kisses him back.  They don’t apologize to him.  They don’t take his advice about their meeting with Pharaoh.  They don’t really believe he has truly forgiven them.

And what about Jacob?  He and Joseph love each other, but how does he feel about all those years when Joseph could have contacted him and didn’t? And has Jacob figured out that the 10 older sons were responsible for Joseph’s disappearance at 17?  Does Jacob weep at his reunion with Joseph?  [Some years ago, I gave a d’var Torah on this portion focusing on tears and family dynamics.  I have posted it here for reference.]

Joseph’s tears show that he feels strongly and that he understands the implications of a given emotional situation.  But despite his tears and his physical embrace of his brothers and father, a barrier remains, just as there remains a barrier between him as a Hebrew and the rest of Egypt.  Joseph is still exceptional, and he must deal with the emotional isolation that results from that.  We’ll see more of that next week, in the final installment of Joseph’s story.

Shabbat shalom,

Mistaken identity   Author: YourLifeChoices

Larry, a photographer for a newspaper, was scheduled to meet a plane on the runway to take him on a job.

“Hit it,” said Larry climbing into the first plane he saw on the runway.

The pilot took off and was soon in the air.

“OK,” said Larry, “fly low over the trees over there, I want to take a few pictures.”

“What do you mean?” asked the pilot.

Larry looked at the pilot and answered a little annoyed, “I need to take some pictures for the paper, so please…..”

There was a long pause, before the pilot asked in a shaky voice, “you mean you’re not my flying instructor?”


I really like both these drawings and the idea of “emotional jumper cables,” so even though I already shared this item on Facebook, I think it merits a re-appearance here.

Joseph’s emotional jumper cables don’t seem to make good contact, except with Benjamin, and maybe Jacob, to some extent.  IGP

tph emotional jumper cables


Family Reunion Jokes

  • “I’m here to talk about our family, but Mom always taught me that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Good Day.”
  • “We didn’t provide any alcohol at this family reunion. We were concerned people would start being honest with each other.”
  • “If you’re upset because you couldn’t bring a boyfriend or girlfriend, just remember: It’s in their best interest.”
  • “The only reason why I’m speaking right now is because Grandma bribed me with pie so I would say something nice.”
  • “Family reunions get a bad reputation. This is way better than jury duty!”
  • “You want to know what the best part is about an annual family reunion? You get a full year to recover.”
  • “You know what they say about annual family reunions. ‘Again?!??!’”
  • “Do you remember what happened at the last family reunion? Yeah, I’ve tried to block it out too.”
  • “You know, all of the women were really excited when I told them about the family reunion… Until I said, “bring your husband too.”
  • “How many crazy people does it take to throw a party?” (Begin counting people)
  • “Our family is like a fine cheese, we get funkier with age!”


tph family smile laugh


Quotes about Hugs

When I come home, my daughter will run to the door and give me a big hug, and everything that’s happened that day just melts away. Hugh Jackman

I have learned that there is more power in a good strong hug than in a thousand meaningful words. Ann Hood

Eating something fresh out of the oven is like a hug you can taste. Regina Brett

My only self-confidence and satisfaction comes from the people that I do meet; I have fondness for people. I mean, I like to hug. And I also like to be hugged. Teresa Heinz

Laughing together is as close as you can get to a hug without touching. Gina Barreca

The Gift of Kvetch (excerpts)

Nov 24, 2012
by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Kvetching is a necessary part of life! Here’s why… 

I would argue that we actually need to kvetch.  Here’s why.

Shmutz1 Removal: Face it. We’re all clogged with oy veys, “who needs this?” and “You’re all shmegegges2.” Should we attempt to hold in all that fury, it can lead to dire consequences. Kvetching is like a mental enema. It allows us to healthily vent, clean out, then start anew with no nasty rage hangovers – or grepsing3.

Creative Socializing or If You’re Kvetching and You Know it, Clap Your Hands: If we’re older than the mutant meatloaf in my freezer, we know that life is filled with a few big joys and a million daily oys. While We Jews are stoic when handling the Big Things such as rescuing people from a terrorist nation, it’s the little things that make our daily lives one big meshuggoss4, like our husband’s insistence he knows a secret short cut from New York to Miami – through Idaho. By letting out a robust “Oy Vey! Would you believe … !” in the hair salon, gym, or elevator, you’ll suddenly hear from strangers, “You too?! MINE dreams of going to outer space – as a pilot, yet! He can’t find the Tums if they’re behind the Q-Tips, but Venus he thinks he’ll find! And another thing …” See? In five minutes, we’ve made 10 BFFs, and given them the gift of the kvetch.

I’m OK, You’re Not A good kvetch can be cautionary!

We’ve Got a Right! Yes.

This being said, of course you can’t kvetch to all of the people all of the time! The expert kvetcher chooses her/his target and issues wisely. Timing is also crucial. We need to balance the kvetch so that it’s long enough to get results, yet short enough so they won’t run from you. Five minutes per kvetch is about right (unless you’re on the line with a telemarketer from India).

I also suggest kvetches be balanced with optimism and positive reinforcement. For example, say to your Irving: “See darling … ? You buttoned up and didn’t get pneumonia?! I’m so proud.”

Marnie Winston-Macaule


1 shmutz:  dirt

2 shmegegge: a contemptible person, an idiot

3 grepsing: belching

4 meshuggoss: craziness

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