The very first words in this week’s parasha Vayigash, we read that Judah carefully approached Joseph. The tension has been building amongst the brothers – and is certainly building for Joseph. Eventually Joseph could no longer restrain his emotions and cried out with such a wail that all Egypt heard him! Imagine. In my experience, albeit limited to my days, that kind of wailing cry pours out of us when a loved one dies, or when we hear the news of such a death. It is an uncontrollable wail. Yet Joseph cried out in an emotional tsunami of recognition. Perhaps revealing his identity brought up all the vulnerabilities he had survived since his brothers sold him. Perhaps he was just overcome with an inability to restrain himself from finally revealing his identity to them.
We think of Revelation as that moment when God revealed God’s Self to Moshe, a time of revealing the commandments by which we base our Judaism. Torah teaches it was a time when we, k’lal Yisroel, saw thunder and heard the lightening – a time, perhaps, when all the worlds wailed as God’ Self was revealed to the now-nation Yisroel. Revealing ourselves to another is that “Thou” moment that Buber bases his text “I and Thou” upon, a moment of shocking intimacy, of our core selves open. In revealing himself to his brothers, with such cataclysmic tears, Joseph revealed himself in his hurt and anguish, in his abandonment, in all we feel in those moments when our worlds of life and death collide. As viceroy of Egypt, Joseph held enormous political and economic power, but all meant for nought as he sought out his brothers recognition of him – once a lad, now grown. Hearing his father Ya’akov was still alive gave Joseph the strength to move back into his life, beyond those tears, back into action, and reunite his family.
The stories of both Joseph and Moshe entwine the stories of Israel and Egypt, a relationship that endures to this day. Both men were protected and nurtured within Egypt as strangers, yet both longed for and led towards a return of bones and body to their ancestral homeland. The bones of our ancestors become the land, and the Land endures, beyond a thousand lifetimes.
Rabbi Lynn Greenhough