Exile and Return (part 3)
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
At the end of last week's parsha, Mikeitz, things were looking grim. Joseph – having not yet revealed his true identity – had accused his bothers of theft and spying, and Benjamin was about to be arrested and imprisoned. Joseph has the brothers on the ropes and they're going down for the 10-count.
Then Parshat Mikeitz abruptly ends.
The Story Continues
As the story resumes in Parshat Vayigash, the Jewish world is crumbling further: Yehudah threatens to send his brothers on a violent rampage if this Egyptian Prime Minister (i.e. Joseph) doesn't stop his oppressive tactics.
At this very moment – with the brothers toe-to-toe, locked in a explosive impasse – Joseph reveals himself as their long-lost brother. With three words, "I am Joseph" (Genesis 45:3), everything now becomes clear. The previous 22 years of doubt and suffering were all worth it, "all part of God's master plan," says Joseph. The reunited brothers hug, and all's well that ends well.
Rabbi Zev Leff asks: Why did the previous parsha have to end with such a cliffhanger? Why didn't the Torah simply extend Parshat Mikeitz a few more verses and include the resolution of this story? Why do we have to wait a whole week to find out what happens?!
Recall how this entire sequence of events began: Joseph was estranged from his brothers, sold into slavery, then consigned to an Egyptian dungeon. He rises to prominence, positioned to save his family from a devastating famine – and even gets the brothers to bow as a fulfillment of his ealier dreams.
More than any other biblical account, this story illustrates how "everything turns out good in end." In order to drive home the lesson, the Torah makes us wait one week to find out the ending!
In a sense this is the story of our own lives as well. We work, we plan, we struggle – and things often end up a mess. The righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. How do the pieces of this puzzle possibly fit together?
The premise for this question stems from a limited perspective. We often imagine that the world began when we're born, and ends when we die. Everything beforehand is lumped together as "ancient history." If we can't understand it today, we conclude that it makes no sense at all.
In truth, we are here on Earth for only a short time. We cannot see the "Big Picture." We don't know all the details that happened beforehand, and we certainly don't know what will happen after we're gone. It's unfair to take a single event out of context and question what appears to be injustice. We might not see the answer immediately; we might not even see it in our lifetime.
Perhaps that's why older people possess a special wisdom – through the perspective of time, they've seen how seemingly unrelated events connect together.
From Darkness To Light
Paradoxically, it is often when things look the most grim that they turn around. The night is at its absolute darkest just moments before the first rays of morning sun illuminate the sky.
In the morning service, we say: "Blessed are You, God, Who forms light and creates darkness…" It is understandable that we thank God for light. But why for darkness?
Because Judaism says that darkness is not negative. Rather it is a necessary step in the process toward light. Only because of our limited perception, do we perceive the darkness as an end unto itself.
Place a seed into the ground – a dark, cold, dirty place where the seed begins to decay. To the onlooker, it looks like death. Then, at the very moment the seed has completely broken down, something miraculous happens. It begins to sprout.
In thinking about our own life, career, and cherished relationships, haven't we experienced our most momentous growth when times have been tough – more so than when they've been smooth?
From the darkness comes light.
Redemption And Sanity
Imagine someone with a serious disease. Taking the right medication will detoxify the body and push the impurities to the surface of the skin. At that moment the patient looks deathly ill, all covered in sores. In truth, those sores are a positive sign of deeper healing.
So too the world. The Talmud says that as the Messianic era approaches, the world will experience greater and greater turmoil: economic, social and political turmoil. The culmination will be a world war of immense proportion led by King Gog from the land of Magog.
The Moshiach will then come and herald the redemption. He will inspire all peoples to know God. He will rebuild the Temple, gather the remaining Jewish exiles to Israel, and re-establish the Sanhedrin. (Maimonides – Laws of Kings ch. 11-12)
If the news is filled with tales of confusion and strife, don't despair. Just as the words "I am Joseph" put all previous difficulties into perspective, so too in the end of time all will be clear for us.
And yet, we are not consigned to any period of pain. If we internalize the truth of God's world and live with that reality, the final resolution will come more quickly and painlessly. At the very least, living with this perspective is sure to preserve our sanity – for only those who maintain belief until the very end will be counted among the survivors. May it be speedily in our days.