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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash


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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.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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