The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Vayigash: What the tears reveal

In last week's Torah portion, we saw Joseph hiding his tears from his brothers and his Egyptian colleagues. In this week's Torah portion, the tears flow too deeply to hide. As you will recall, the last portion ends with Joseph's goblet being found in Benjamin's pack. None of the brothers are aware that Joseph ordered his servants to put it there. Upon being accused of theft, but before the "theft" was revealed, the brothers vow that if any of them stole from Joseph, the thief should be executed, and the other brothers sold into slavery. Upon being arrested for the theft, Joseph made their vow more lenient, asking that the thief be enslaved, and the others go free. Upon revealing the stolen goblet, Joseph insists that Benjamin be his slave. As you will recall, Jacob was reluctant to let Benjamin travel down to Egypt until Judah promised to offer his life for Benjamin's life should anything happen to Benjamin in Egypt. And then this week's Torah portion begins.

The portion begins with Judah coming to Benjamin's defense before Joseph. Judah does not recognize Joseph, and thinks of him as second only to Pharaoh. Therefore, to contest his decision is to put his life in jeopardy, but he does not hesitate to step up. Judah relates his promise to their father, and mentions that his father, through Rachel, had only two sons. Joseph, Jacob assumes, was torn by wild beasts, and Benjamin is Jacob's new favorite. Judah assures Joseph that if the brothers return without Benjamin, their father will die of anguish. He tells Joseph that he has pledged his life for Benjamin's, and begs Joseph to take him instead, in order to spare their father's life.

This proves too much for Joseph. This whole ruse and subterfuge has been designed to prove to Joseph whether or not their brothers have made moral restitution since since abducting him and selling him into slavery. With Judah's testimony, he is convinced that his brothers have done so, and he cannot help but be overcome with emotion at this discovery. He fears that he is about to break down weeping, and sends his Egyptian servants away.

His sobs are so loud that everyone in his palace can hear them, but alone in the room with his brothers, he reveals himself to them. He insists that they feel no guilt at having wronged him, but assures them that God sent him before them to Egypt, to save all of their lives before the upcoming famine. He asks them to return for their father, and gives them choice land to settle in Goshen, in Egypt, to wait out the famine in some of the only fertile lands in the region.

With that, he embraces Benjamin, and the two of them sob on each other's shoulders. Then he kisses each of his brothers and weeps with them. The commotion is so loud that Pharaoh is alerted, and he invites the brothers to return to Canaan for their wives and children, and to bring their father with them, to settle in the best lands in Egypt. Joseph helps them pack for the journey, and tells them: "do not have anger or agitation along the way." [Genesis 45: 24].

The rabbis are fascinated with this advice. The history of the Jewish people is full of internecine conflicts, right up to the present day. The Talmud tells us that the Second Temple fell because of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred. Jews who should have loved each other hated each other over issues that from a distance look like minutiae. Today in Israel, in Beit Shemesh, an eight-year-old Modern Orthodox girl was spat upon and called a whore by extremist ultra-Orthodox adult men for wearing a long-sleeve shirt and a long skirt that still was not considered modest enough by her bullies. Last night, there was rioting in Beit Shemesh as people protesting the girl's treatment, and those who harassed her fought in the public square. Police who showed up to quell the violence were met with rocks and flaming trash cans. The extremists within the ultra-Orthodox community there are calling for an exclusion of women in the public sphere, from public shops and public transport. In their journey to the land of Israel, they have quarreled along the way.

Too often Jews have forgotten that we are all brothers, and should love each other, and that we should not quarrel along the way to Israel, both the land of Israel, and the metaphorical Israel. Masons too sometimes gently need to be reminded not to quarrel along the way. We are all brothers.

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