As if a pandemic had ended, Joseph reunites with his brothers


By Rabbi Amy Schwartzman

This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27.

Parshat Vayigash tells of two important milestones for the Jewish people who, at that time, consisted of the sons of Jacob and their families. The first is the reunification of Jacob’s 11 sons with Joseph, their brother. The second is the establishment and security of Jacob’s family in Egypt and their successful survival from the famine.

In this second half, Joseph arranges for people to exchange livestock for food and then land for food. Controlling the land for Pharaoh, Joseph distributes seed for planting with the agreement that the people will give one-fifth to Pharaoh and keep four-fifths for themselves.

Meanwhile, Jacob and his family increase in numbers and wealth in the area they have been given, Goshen.

As important as the security of the Israelites in Egypt is in this parshah, even more significant to many of us is the beautiful story of the reunion between the brothers that is depicted in chapter 45.

In last week’s parshah, Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, but they did not recognize him. This week, Joseph reveals himself to them in an emotional and memorable scene. The text says that his cries were so loud that all of Egypt heard them.

Reading the story, especially in the Hebrew, which captures emotion so beautifully, the reader feels Joseph’s deep joy and relief as well as his grief from past events in the moment he tells his brothers who he is. He sends everyone else out of the room and then opens the floodgates of emotion in seeing his family after so many years. Even in light of what the brothers had done to him, Joseph embraces them, forgives them and opens his heart to them.

Perhaps I am drawn to this scene because I am eager to see families and friends who have been separated by COVID-19 reunited with joy and relief as Joseph was. Like in our biblical story, the emotions will be so great that (hopefully) pain and hurt will fall to the wayside. I am imagining my own reunion with my brothers, my in-laws and cousins, all whom I long to embrace.

Even before this pandemic, I had the opportunity to witness Joseph-like heartfelt reconciliations. During lifecycle events, I watched estranged family members reveal themselves anew to each other. Siblings, parents and children, cousins who have been out of touch for years, usually because of unfortunate events long forgotten, cry tears of joy while reconnecting with family, as well as tears of sadness for the time lost while grudges were held.

In these times, we understand the fragility of life and the precious gift of sharing that life in real time with friends and family.

Rabbi Amy Schwartzman is senior rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom, in Falls Church.

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