This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash, Genesis 44:18–47:27.
In this parsha, after a 20-year separation, Joseph reunites with his brothers and father. The reunion is emotional because the separation was bitter. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, never expecting to see him again. Joseph’s father Jacob had continually grieved for his beloved son, believing he was dead. Nobody in the family could imagine that Joseph could be the second-most powerful man in Egypt.
When Joseph reveals his identity, the brothers are stunned; Joseph’s sobs are so powerful that they’re heard throughout the palace. Jacob is so shocked that he faints. Joseph reassures the family that he bears no ill will toward them because his enforced exile had placed him in a position to ensure that the family would live and thrive in the midst of a region-wide famine. In short, the Torah depicts reconciliation between the brothers and the entire family.
The theme of reunion and reconciliation are reinforced by the Haftarah, a passage from Ezekiel, the prophet to the Jews exiled in Babylonia. At God’s behest, Ezekiel takes two pieces of wood and writes on them the names of the dispersed kingdoms of Israel — Ephraim and Judea — and holds them together. He tells the people that this would be a sign of their eventual return to their own land. The return might not happen immediately, he says, but it will happen.
When the rabbis chose this passage for this week’s Torah portion, they lived in the Diaspora, as did most Jews. They realized that Ezekiel’s words could bring hope that exile from Israel would come to an end.
Today, we have seen the fulfillment of this prophecy. Israel is home to a major segment of the Jewish people. Having come from all over the world, the diverse communities have found a home in their ever-developing homeland. The vision of the prophet may not be completely fulfilled, but it still brings hope.
The theme of reunion can also hold meaning for each of us. In my work at the Charles E Smith Life Communities, I’ve observed family members who have been distant from each other come together. They may be gathering as a loved one nears the end of life, or they may realize that it’s a good place to meet. Sometimes they use the reunion to settle old differences.
Here’s another challenge: I often hear people say that they haven’t spoken with a friend or relative for a long time, but they’re afraid to make the call or visit. They worry that he or she will be angry that so much time has passed since their last contact. When they do call, however, they often find that their friend or relative is happy that they reached out. There are no bad words or recriminations spoken, only happiness that the reunion took place.
The telephone company used to have ad which said, “Reach out and touch someone.” Let the theme of this Torah portion prompt you to make that call. As with Joseph and his brothers, the experience will be priceless.
Questions for discussion
Think about a family reunion you participated in. What were the feelings you experienced when it took place?
How can we create opportunities for family reunions? Do we need to wait for a major life event, or can we create them during ordinary times?
Does Ezekiel’s prophecy still hold true? Are there segments of the Jewish people who need reconciliation with each other?
Rabbi James Michaels is the director of pastoral care at the Charles E. Smith Life Communities in Rockville.