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Vayigash Heart Stopping

“This is how a heart breaks.” – Rob Thomas

Joseph has one question for his brothers after he reveals himself as the brother they kidnapped and sold into slavery. In one breathless plea, Joseph says “I am Joseph, is my father still alive?” He doesn’t even wait for a moment between saying his name and asking his pressing question. What is so urgent about this question? Does it really matter at this precise moment?

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them for everything, he magnanimously offers the burgeoning clan a new home in Egypt. The brothers race home to tell their father the incredible news. Picture the scene, as they approach their frail, elderly, despondent father.

“Dad, Joseph is alive! And he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

Jacob has the most human reaction possible. He doesn’t believe the news. “His heart stopped.” After Jacob hears all the things that Joseph said to the brothers and he sees the wagons that Joseph sent back with the brothers, Jacob believes. But initially, Jacob did not want to believe.

I think Jacob’s disbelief is more than just skepticism. I think Jacob almost doesn’t want to believe that Joseph is alive. Of course he is thrilled to hear the news, but something in the news stops his heart for a moment.

Jacob may have been thinking: “Joseph was alive the whole time! I should have done something to find him! I can’t believe I let the years slip by and Joseph was in Egypt all along!”

This heart stopping regret made Jacob disbelieve for a moment. It broke his heart.

It’s also why Joseph asked his brother if their father was still alive in the same breath as his big reveal. “I am Joseph, is my father still alive? If Dad is alive, why has he not come looking for me? Was Dad complicit in your plot? If Dad is dead then I understand everything. But if Dad is alive, why did he abandon me?!”

The brother were frightened by this question because they thought Joseph would punish them for their betrayal and they thought Joseph was asking if he should punish their father too. Of course, Joseph had no such intentions, but for a moment, it was a very scary thought. Joseph understood their shocked silence as proof of Jacob’s innocence and says to his brothers “I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold.” The emphasis on the brothers doing the deed and not Jacob.

This also explains why Joseph was crying and unable to hold himself back. He cried because in his mind, he was the chosen son and then was abandoned by his father. He just had to know if his father really loved him. That is what broke Joseph and forced him to reveal himself to his brothers.

“And Joseph could not hold himself back any longer” because he needed to know the truth about his father. That’s why he blurts out the question about his father before his brothers can even process the shocking news that Joseph was a minister over Egypt.

Don’t let the people who love wonder if you love them. Don’t let the people you love think you betrayed them. The pain of that doubt is enough to destroy a person and the guilt of realizing we have done this to our loved ones is enough to break our hearts.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is the founder of shulontheinternet.com.
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