January 3rd, 2004
By Danielle Dugas
Family Affairs and Reunions, The Benefit of the Doubt, Comfort from G-d.
Today’s parsha is the conclusion of the story of Joseph. Last week, we heard how Joseph, who sends his brothers back to Jacob with much needed food in time of famine, plants his silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag, and gives instructions to have all the bags searched as they leave. Of course, the goblet is in Benjamin’s bag.
Yehuda must plead with Joseph to allow Benjamin to return to Jacob and to keep him , Yehuda, in his brother’ stead, as slave.
Did Joseph know that Yehuda would do the honourable gesture?
Did he want to test how precious Benjamin is to his father? Does he need to hear again how his own disappearance has pushed Jacob’s favour from himself to his youngest brother Benjamin?
Is he jealous of Benjamin’s special status?
The answers here may have something to do with how generous one’feelings are toward Joseph.
At this point, Joseph can no longer contain himself. He sends out of the room everyone but his brothers; he cries loudly, so loudly he is heard outside, and then says: “I am Joseph. Is my father still well?
Does he not know? Yehuda has just finished tellling him their father will die of grief if he does not see Benjamin alive again.
Does he feel this knowledge would kill his father?
As the brothers stand completely dumbfounded, Joseph shows himself for the truly great person he is: “Do not be distressd or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that G-d sent me ahead of you.(...) G-d sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance”.
Finally Joseph is able to embrace his brother Benjamin around the neck and weep; Benjamin weeps as well. Then he kisses al his brothers and weeps upon them. Only then are his brothers able to speak to him.
Of course, the news reach Pharaoh, who values Joseph very much. He instructs Joseph to send for his entire family, and (generously!) announces “Never mind your belongings for the best of the land of Egypt is yours”.
Of course, the brothers return to fetch the family and their belongings. Joseph provides for them provisions for the journey, and a change of clothing. But to his full brother Benjamin, he gives three hundered pieces of silver and several changes of clothing. And he sends them off with these parting instructions “Do not be quarrelsome on the journey.”
Is this a new test? Joseph knows that his brothers eiminated him out of jealousy and hatred. He also knows they have accepted that Benjamin is the new favourite as a result; they have shown that they will not cross the ligne again; indeed rather than face his father without Benjamin, Yehuda is prepared to become Joseph’s slave. Why woud Joseph set up the stage against Benjamin?
Fortunately the brothers return with the entire family, and with Yehuda in the lead, arrive in the land of Goshen, where Joseph meets them, and is finally able to embrace his father, and cry with him. And Israel says to Joseph: “Now I can die, having seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Joseph displays another interesting trait as he prepares his family to meet with Pharoah. He explains to them that since shepherds are abhorent to Egyptians, they should call themselves “keepers of livestock, from the start until now”.
What do the brothers say in their meeting with Pharoah? “We are shepherds, as were our fathers.”
This might be explained in the following manner: Joseph is the consumate successful Jew in Diaspora. He has risen from nothing in prison to being Pharaoh’s first man. He has been able, through his foreknowledge and planning skills, to avert a great disaster for his adopted country. He has married the daughter of his boss. And he feels some things are just not said to Pharaoh when one wishes to be successful. In this instance his brothers prove his reading of the situation wrong. They never were in prison; they have always been shepherds and they do not experience the discomfot that Joseph woud know because he is so well assimilated. And one could read from Pharaoh’s statement two options: since he instructs Joseph to put the most capable of his brothers in charge of his own livestock, he may believe Joseph’s skills run in the family; possibly, he rewards Joseph’s brothers for being straightforward.
To Joseph’s credit, he sustains his father, and his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, down to the little ones. He displays here a very profound sense of responsibility. He has brought successfully his family over, but he still ensures that all is well, even after Pharaoh gives them the best of the land, and the best jobs they are qualified for. Joseph remains their provider.
Moreover, he pursues his management of the famine to amazing success. He is able to exchange for food and seed for all the farm land and all the livestock of Egypt in Pharaoh’s favour, with the exception o o that land which belongs to the priests. All free men become tenants of Pharoah, and must pay one fifth of their harvest in exchange for the privilege of farming, and for their seed allotment.
A rich and comples person, this Joseph, and much that we can take away, and admirable behaviour against which to model our own:
-wise use of power, humility
-material success, and how to use it well
-a great ability to share
-willingness for reconciliation.
However, I have one sad point to bring out of the parsha, because it is not possible for me to study Torah, and be entirely at ease.
In the part of the reading which deals with Jacob is a description of who comes down to Egypt with him In total, counting Joseph and his two sons, seventy. And among them (Genesis 46:15) his daughter Dinah.
We first hea of Dinah a few weeks earlier, (30:21) in this manner: “After six sons, she (Leah) bore him a daughter, and named her Dinah”.
Soon after, her stroty unfolds: (34:1) “Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land.” (34:3) “Shechem, being strongly drawn to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, took her by force and lay with her.” A subtle change has occured; Dinah went from being Leah’s daughter to being refered to as the daughter of Jacob.
We know from earlier readings as well that Leah was not loved as much by Jacob, as her sister Rachel. And Leah longed for his love and attention. With each child born, she expressed her hope and disappointment in the child’s name. It is as though she names Dinah to suggest, this one will permit judgment of her as a mother and wife. One surmises this from the fisrt part of the name “din” which means judgement. At the point where Dianh is raped, and becomes “damaged goods” in Leah’s eyes, she is no longer wanted by Leah or regarded as her daughter; she becomes Jacob’s daughter.
Is Dinah the judged one?
Does she bring along judgement to those involved with her?
Do the action of those around her ever get judged? Seemingly Simeon and Levi judged all the community of Shechem guilty and destroyed them. Jacob however watched silently and did not even chastise his sons (at least not at this point).
Certainly Dinah seems judged here by Leah, and left out of her mother’s count, as if to say Leah no longer considers hers, as verse 46:15 spells out “and among them his daughter Dinah”.
I should like to conclude with word of comfort. They are specially nice as they are atrributed directly to G-d. This note, tucked inside the story ligne, sets the stage for the next book, and also explains to us how the story ends.
As Jacob sets out for Egypt, with his family and all his belongings, he comes to Beer-sheba where he offers sacrifices to the G-d of his father Isaac. For the second time in the Torah G-d speaks to him in a dream. We immediately find out Jacob’s feellings about this journey in the first two words: “Fear not”. More importantly, we find out why Jacob should have no fear: “Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand will close your eyes.”
So now we know the very end of the story of Jacob, and in fact the very end of the story of Israel. The next books of the Torah will fill in some details.