Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayigash
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 5 5779
Is there any moment more dramatic than the scene in this week’s Sedra, when Yosef reveals to his brothers that he is the long-last, given-up-for-dead Yosef, alive & well in Pharoah’s palace? The brothers, quite naturally, are paralyzed with amazement, fear & wonder.

Yosef’s opening words are among the most famous in Jewish literature: "Ani Yosef; ha’od avi chai? – I am Yosef; does my father yet live?" If, as some suggest, Yosef once blamed Yakov for the turmoil with his brothers & their harsh treatment of him, he now is consumed with a desire to know if Yakov is alive & how he is.

Yet this is puzzling. Just a short while earlier (43:27), Yosef had inquired as to Yakov’s welfare – "HaShalom Avichem.…ha’odenu chai? – is all well with your father; does he yet live?" and Yosef had been answered in the affirmative! Does Yosef think he had been lied to previously, that perhaps the brothers were seeking his sympathy, & so now they needed to be asked once again? Or is there another, much more profound dynamic at work here.

Once there was a young boy, gifted & smart, whose father had abruptly picked up & left the family. This so traumatized the boy, who loved his father deeply, that he retreated inside himself & rarely spoke to others. One day, in Hebrew class, the teacher was discussing this very story about Yosef. He asked the students the same exact question we just posed: "Why did Yosef ask if his father was alive, if he already knew the answer?"

The class was silent & then, suddenly, the boy raised his hand & said, "I know the answer!" The teacher was shocked; the boy had never, ever volunteered a comment before. "Yes," he said to the boy, "please do tell us."

The boy stood up slowly. "Yosef is not asking if Yakov is still alive - he already knows the answer to that; he is asking the brothers if Yakov knows - if Yakov cares - that Yosef is alive! That is why Yosef earlier used the term, ‘Avichem' – YOUR father;’ but now he calls Yakov ‘Avi – MY father!’ He needs to know, ‘does my father remember me, does he think of me, does he love me as much as I still love him? Is he still my father as much as I am his son?!’ "

And with that, the boy broke down in tears & collapsed in his seat. The teacher, of course, understood that the boy was finally expressing his deepest feelings about his own, absent father.

But in truth, this is a question we should all be asking & crying over, especially when times are hard, when we experience tragedy, as in the horrendous attack on a pregnant mother this past week by Palestinian animals. We cry out to Hashem, our Father: "Do you remember us, are you there, watching over us, do you love us? And do you see how much we love You, how loyal & faithful we are to You, even when You seem so distant?

Avinu She’ba’shamayim: Please, please, let us be re-united.
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