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Parshat Vaygash – Meeting the Real Self


Genesis 44:18-47:27

Genesis 45:1-5

1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried: ‘Cause every man to go out from me.’ And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. 2 And he wept aloud; and the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard. 3 And Joseph said unto his brethren: ‘I am Joseph; does my father yet live?’ And his brethren could not answer him; for they were frightened at his presence. 4 And Joseph said unto his brethren: ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they came near. And he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:1-5)

I could not help noticing a certain sequence of events in this saga of Joseph and his brothers, one that culminates in these verses.

They Did not Change Names, Language or Their Mode of Dress

But before we discuss that, there is another item that deserves our attention. The Sages tell us that the Jews were redeemed from Egypt because, although they had become completely absorbed into the Egyptian sociological landscape, and had developed a pernicious slave mentality, they did not change their names, their language, or their mode of dress (see Yalkut Shimoni on Parshat Emor). They had reached the lowest level of spiritual impurity through their contact with Egyptian culture and idolatry; virtually all other aspects of their spirituality were gone. Yet, on the merit of these three items, the Jews were redeemed.

Yosef HaTzaddik did Change His Name, Language and Mode of Dress

In contrast, we see that Joseph had become entirely Egyptian in precisely these three areas. As viceroy of Egypt, he was known as Tzafnat Pa’ane’ach (“Hidden Face”). He spoke the Egyptian language, as is evidenced by his use of a translator during his conversations with his brethren; his appearance was that of an Egyptian, as the verse states, “and he shaved himself, and he changed his garments, and came to Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:14). Yet, he is referred to as Yosef HaTzaddik, who ostensibly reached the highest level of holiness, and continuously strengthened his relationship to G-d in the midst of Egypt.

Tzafnat Pa’ane’ach, Became More and More Alone

But there is a price to remaining hidden behind a guise of dominance and mystery. It is incredible to witness in these Torah portions the actualization of Joseph’s dream-prophecies. Yes, all of his brothers did eventually come and bow before him. In fact, the entire known world came to bow before Joseph and became totally dependent upon him. But it is difficult to bear witness to the story of the estrangement of family members from each other, something that is evident from the simple meaning of the text. As Joseph intensified the distance between himself and his brothers, and exerted more and more of his authority over them, he became more and more alone, having to leave the room in order to cry over the vast treasure of reconciliation and love that lay waiting in potential before him, but remained inaccessible as long as he was Tzafnat Pa’ane’ach.

From the brothers’ perspective, it was, until this point, a painful and frightening story of intrigue and deception. Though they sensed that it befell them as a punishment for the cruelty they showed their younger brother, they were stung by what felt like a series of mishaps and treachery. It was almost like happenstance, with no rhyme or reason for what was going on.

The Revelation of One’s True Self as a Prerequisite for True Relationships

Then, Joseph stepped out from behind his golden chain, and revealed his true self to his brothers, and his pain–in their language. Immediately, he was able to say, “And now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me hither; for G-d did send me before you to preserve life” (Ibid., 45:5). What we can learn from this is that the revelation of one’s true self is a prerequisite for coming into a real relationship with oneself, and with the people around him. And this realness, this authenticity, is a springboard for an awareness of and connection to G-d Himself.

May we all be blessed to step out from behind these masks we wear, to share our precious true selves with those around us, and, being OK with that, to experience the genuine relationship with G-d that is waiting for us.

By Rabbi Tani Burton

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