Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence. — Genesis 45:3
This Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 37:15–28.
Imagine what Joseph’s brothers must have been thinking before he revealed himself to them.
It had all started when they went on an innocent journey to find food for their family during the famine. Egypt’s Prime Minister (Joseph) accused them of being spies and made the strange demand that they return with their youngest brother, Benjamin – the one who their father refused to part with – in order to earn his trust.
To ensure that they would come back, Joseph took their brother Simeon as collateral. Things go from bad to worse when they discovered that the silver they had used to pay for their food was somehow back in their sacks. They had been set up! They were confused and asked, “What is this that God has done to us?” (Genesis 42:27).
Once the family was on the brink of starvation again, they finally convinced Jacob to allow them to bring Benjamin to Egypt so that they could return the silver, redeem Simeon, and buy more food. This time they were treated like royalty and were astonished that the mysterious ruler even knew how to seat them in age order.
Benjamin was given five times as much food as the other brothers as clearly the mysterious Egyptian favored him. But things went bad again when the brothers discovered Joseph’s prized goblet in Benjamin’s sack. Another set-up? The brothers had reached rock bottom. Nothing made sense and everything appeared lost.
And then the words that changed it all: “I am Joseph!” With those words, everything snapped into place.
The brothers now understood all that had been happening to them since coming to Egypt; they even got the big picture of what had been happening for years before. All the hardships that the mysterious Egyptian had placed on them were to test them – to see if they had truly regretted their mistake of selling him and to see if they would act differently if faced again with a similar situation. Joseph helped them see how selling him led to his position in Egypt, which was ultimately what saved their family from starvation. Suddenly, everything was clear.
Our Jewish sages teach that this scene will be re-enacted again at the End of Days when God reveals Himself to the world and says, “I am God.” Suddenly, everything will make sense to us, and we will understand how everything—even those things that don’t seem to make sense now – are all for a good purpose. When God reveals Himself to the world, we won’t have any more questions.
So have faith and take hope in the message from our reading today: No matter how bad things may seem at the moment, one day it will all make perfect sense.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President