This week we read Vayigash, the story of the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers. We see the reunion of Joseph with Jacob and the settling of the people in Goshen. (The Joseph story is one of the longest in the Torah and indeed the text has had no breaks since the Sedra Miketz last week.)
The impassioned speech of Judah to Joseph sets the tone but was this repentance on his part or appeasement? The brothers would have remembered that Joseph had cried out when he was put in the pit but each of them would frame what happened in their own way.
Judah is now more concerned about his father and how he himself will be seen if he leaves Benjamin:
For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!
It is only many years later, after Jacob dies, that the brothers ask forgiveness quoting Jacob as saying:
I ask you to forgive your brothers for the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly
Joseph tries to take away guilt from his brothers. Seeing himself as guided by God he tells them:
Now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.
In the Sedra this week more masks come off. Jacob will reunite with Joseph, no longer hidden under the mask of “Visier of Egypt”. The family will not have to pretend that they are not shepherds. (The feared Hyskos invaders of Egypt were called Shepherd Kings).
The last months have been a bizarre time of uncertainly and wearing masks. How we will look back on these times? A sense of family and community can retain our hopes, our confidence, and a belief in a brighter future.