THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT VAYIGASH 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
Yet again, I am filled with the need to thank HaShem for the never-ending kindnesses He continues to bestow upon our family, as we celebrate the engagement of the young man whose birth 23 years ago, changed Judith’s and my life forever as we became grandparents for the first time. Yes, our eldest grandchild, Eliav Spector, is engaged to a wonderful young lady Naomi Epstein, youngest child of a very special family from Bnei Brak.
Eliav also turned my parents into great grandparents, and I can’t wait to introduce Naomi to my dear mother. My late father is undoubtedly shepping Nachass as he watches his family grow beyond his wildest dreams, especially because when he came to London on the Kindertransport he was never to see his parents again. I cannot begin to imagine the level of loneliness he must have experienced as a 15-year old, all alone in a foreign country.
Everyone - child and adult - suffers moments of loneliness at times. Maybe when you feel that your parents don’t understand you; or your siblings are ganging up on you; if you’re an only child; if you’re the middle child; if you have an illness that no-one else has and you can’t join in activities that other kids are doing; if you’re fatter or uglier than other kids – or at least you think so; if you see how many friends others seem to have and yet you have few or none; if you’re picked on for wearing a funny head-covering in a non-Jewish school; if you walk into a party or Simcha and you don’t immediately recognise anyone (and there’s no seating plan); and the list goes on.
But probably the most common - and understandable - form of loneliness stems from being separated from the rest of the family. Not just in the extreme circumstances my father and thousands of others experienced before the war. But even when three of four siblings live in close proximity to one another and you don’t, even if it’s only an hour’s drive away, and you know they’re doing things together and you’re not included – that can hurt. And when you’re not even in the same country, well, need I say more?
The story of Yosef and his brothers must be studied in this context. Whether Yosef’s firm belief that HaShem planned his sale to Egypt started already when he was 17, or whether it came to him only when he saw HaShem’s blatant intervention later, Yosef must have been acutely conscious that his entire family, father, brothers, sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces, were all living in Hevron, while he was stuck in Egypt. They were surrounded by family, while he was surrounded by Egyptians. His children had to be kept at home so as not to be influenced by his idolatrous Egyptian neighbours, while his brothers’ kids had dozens of cousins to play with. And even his elevation to viceroy would not have made him any less lonely.
Imagine then his feelings when he first saw his ten brothers arriving in Egypt. His first instinctive reaction must have been to rush and hug them all – in spite of their treatment of him 22 years earlier. The commentators offer various explanations why he chose to test and even torment them before “coming clean,” but it can’t have been easy for Yosef to continue the pretence of being an Egyptian.
So when, at the beginning of our Parsha, Yehudah makes his impassioned plea to Yosef to spare Binyamin and avoid causing their elderly father any additional grief and anguish, Yosef was visibly and emotionally moved. Not just by Yehudah’s sincerity, but by the reminder of just how much the family unit meant to them all. Yosef was granted the opportunity to bring to an end his 22 years of acute loneliness. He grabbed it with both hands. Who wouldn’t?