This week’s Torah portion Vayigash is about recognition.
Specifically, the story concerns Joseph and his brothers at the moment when those who had earlier sold a younger Joseph into slavery are confronted with the reality that their long-left-for-dead brother is, in fact, alive and well. Of course, the drama of the moment is captured in Joseph’s brothers’ ability to move ahead once they come to recognize what (or who) is quite literally staring them in the face.
As Joseph looks upon his brothers who have come to him in Egypt for food, the man who is now second only to Pharaoh is aware his siblings do not recognize him. This is not, in and of itself, surprising. After all, it had been years when his older siblings first set their plans to be rid of Joseph by selling him to traveling traders; since then, they had invested themselves heavily in their truth and had not allowed themselves to imagine a different reality.
Joseph for his part, is not wed to maintaining the illusion of truth and cannot contain himself. “I am Joseph!” he cries. But his brothers, our Torah teaches, were rendered mute, so dumbfounded were they. Then Joseph pleads, “Come forward to me!” And it is only then, once Joseph’s brothers hear the sincerity in their younger sibling’s invitation, coupled with their recalling their father’s love, that they are able to recognize their family’s interdependence and can move ahead, together.
How often do we find ourselves in much the same position? We, too, are well invested in our current structures and forms. We are oft wedded to long-held beliefs we cherish and depend upon. In the face of the need to adjust our expectations, like Joseph’s brothers, we may not know what to say, to say nothing of knowing how to begin moving forward.
As was true for Joseph, reunited with his brothers after so many years, the world in which we find ourselves too looks quite different than it appeared just a few short years ago. Most of us recognize this truth; it is, after all, staring our community in the face. But are we — in spite of our inability to say where this new path might lead us — willing to recognize our own interdependence and do what is necessary to act on this new reality? Are we, even as it will require us to be courageous in the face of change, able to imagine heeding Joseph’s admonition to “come forward” just the same?
Our family’s future necessitates our doing so.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)