Thursday, December 9, 2010

Letting it Go...

This week's portion, parashat Vayigash, is filled with highly emotional moments. One of those moments is when Jacob gets word from his sons that Joseph is still alive. However, Jacob is not fully convinced that Joseph has survived until he sees the wagons that Joseph has sent for him (Genesis 45:26-27)

כו וַיַּגִּדוּ לוֹ לֵאמֹר, עוֹד יוֹסֵף חַי, וְכִי-הוּא מֹשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם; וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ, כִּי לֹא-הֶאֱמִין לָהֶם.

And they told him, saying: 'Joseph is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.' And his heart fainted, for he believed them not.

כז וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יוֹסֵף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵהֶם, וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָעֲגָלוֹת, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ; וַתְּחִי, רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם.

And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them; and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived.

The question that the commentators ask is: why does the sight of the wagons convince Jacob that Joseph is still alive? Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, a Talmud professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote an amazing davar Torah on this topic: To read it in full, click here.

In short, he cites a midrash that explains why this was a convincing sign to Jacob. According to this rabbinic story, the last bit of Torah that Joseph and Jacob studied together was the laws of the eglah arufah, a ritual described in Deuteronomy that explains how a community can be absolved of guilt in the case of a murder whose perpetrator is unknown. The word eglah sounds like agalah which is the Hebrew word for wagon. Joseph was at once sending a code to his father based upon their last tender experience, but also sending a message to his father about how to proceed with his life. Joseph says to his father through this act, "Do not ask the details of what happened to me or who is to blame. You may suspect my brothers of foul play, but this is not a matter worth pursuing."

Sometimes we express love by telling the whole truth. Other times, we express our love by holding back and letting it go. There is no use for Joseph to destroy his father's relationships with his other sons in his old age. Joseph is not interested in dwelling on the past when he has reached such great heights in Egypt. Rather, he is interested in bringing comfort to his father and providing a safe and meaningful reunion. He might want to unburden himself by relaying his brothers sins and his own faults, but this would not serve his father or his relationship with him. As Rabbi Diamond concludes his davar Torah: " Sometimes what we owe the ones we love is to bear the unbearable knowledge of our own sins. Our penance comes not through confession but through changing the direction in our lives."

Shabbat Shalom