Vayigash: Joseph, I am Your Father!

Menorah— by Rabbi Richard F Address

This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, is one of the most profound and meaningful readings of the year. It continues the Joseph cycle and, in a dramatic scene, Joseph confronts his brothers and reveals his true identity. For a while Joseph has played his brothers, almost toying with them, refusing to reveal who he was. At the end of last week’s reading (Genesis 43:27), Joseph even casually asks about the brothers’ father “of whom you spoke”. But in this week’s portion, it is time for truth. Imagine what he must have felt. Here were his brothers who cast him aside, rejected him, thought and wished him dead. Here they stand before him, bowing to him and his position, offering gifts, pleading for food. Who could blame the story for taking a revengeful track!

Joseph recognized by his brothers, oil painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863.

Joseph recognized by his brothers, oil painting by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois, 1863.

But in a most powerful scene we read:

Joseph could not longer control himself before all his attendants and he cried out “Have everyone withdraw”, so there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear and the news reached Pharoah’s palace. The Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still well? But his brothers could not answer for so dumbfounded were they on account of him. (Genesis 45:1-3)

You can almost feel the emotion leaping from the page. Look at what Joseph says. Of all the questions he could have asked, of all the things that he could have said, the first words are about his father. How is my father?

The Hebrew and its various translations are interesting. In some versions, the Hebrew Ha Od avi chai? is translated as “Is my father still well”, seeming to refer back to that question from last week’s portion (Genesis 43:17) However, if we look at the more literal translation, it seems to ask “Is my father still alive?” I think this latter approach is the more powerful. But remember, Joseph’s first concern is his father. Despite all the trappings of power and fame, success and influence that he has achieved, Joseph’s concern is his dad!

There are a myriad of interpretations about this story and the fact that Joseph’s reunion and his story was part of a Divine plan for the Jewish people. We alluded to this a few weeks back. All of that is great and worthy of much discussion. Yet, for me and for our generation, I think it is a powerful statement that the immediate reaction upon this revelation of identity is to restore that family relationship. Joseph has grown from that narcissistic teen to a mature man. Life has tested him and molded him onto a man of power and influence. But still, in his soul, was that void, that loss of family and “home” and so maybe we should not be surprised that when the time came to “settle the score”, so to speak, he rushed to try and fill that relational void. How many of us, as we journey through life, still yearn for those basic relationships of parents and family. We often still hear their voices, even if they have died. How often have we wished “they” could be with us to share a moment. I suggest Joseph’s question “Is my father still alive” I suggest, is much more than a simple question. It is, for many of us, that internal and intimate pull to belong, to be “home”, to feel part of family.

Shabbat shalom.

Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the founder and director of Jewish Sacred Aging. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a regional director and then, beginning in 1997, as founder and director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011 to 2014.

Sandy Hook Victim’s Mother: “Now is the Time to Act”

This week’s White House address was delivered by Francine Wheeler, whose six year old son, Ben, was murdered alongside nineteen other children and six educators in Newtown, Connecticut, four months ago. Now, Francine — joined by her husband David — is asking the American people to help prevent this type of tragedy from happening to more families like hers. Since that terrible day in December, thousands more Americans have died, and thousands more families have suffered the pain of losing a loved one to violence. Now that the Senate has agreed that commonsense gun safety reforms deserve a vote, they must finish the job and pass those reforms to protect our children and our communities. Now is the time for all Americans to help make this a moment of real change.

— Francine Wheeler

Hi. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the President. I’m just a citizen. And as a citizen, I’m here at the White House today because I want to make a difference and I hope you will join me.

My name is Francine Wheeler. My husband David is with me. We live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
David and I have two sons. Our older son Nate, soon to be 10 years old, is a fourth grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our younger son, Ben, age six, was murdered in his first-grade classroom on December 14th, exactly 4 months ago this weekend.

Remarks continue after the jump.
David and I lost our beloved son, but Nate lost his best friend. On what turned out to be the last morning of his life, Ben told me, quite out of the blue, “I still want to be an architect, Mama, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that’s what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does.”

Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched. His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. He couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt.

Until that morning. 20 of our children, and 6 of our educators — gone. Out of the blue.

I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief.

Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.

Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home — the same firehouse that was home to Ben’s Tiger Scout Den 6. But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do — for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon.

We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass common sense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.

When I packed for Washington on Monday, it looked like the Senate might not act at all. Then, after the President spoke in Hartford, and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward.

But that’s only the start. They haven’t yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do.

Now is the time to act. Please join us. You can talk to your Senator, too. Or visit WhiteHouse.gov to find out how you can join the President and get involved.

Help this be the moment when real change begins. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.