This week’s parsha contains a turning point in Joseph’s story – the famous moment when he finally reveals his identity to his brothers, saying, “I am Joseph; is my father still alive?”
The question brings into focus the significant theme in the parsha of connection, both interpersonal relationships and the connection between man and God. Having tested the strength of the relationship between his brothers, when Joseph sees Judah coming to Benjamin’s defence, he knows they have changed. He reaffirms his relationship with his family. The rabbis tell us that when Joseph asked: “Is my father still alive?” he needed emotional reassurance of Jacob’s connection with him.
Next he strengthens his connection with his brothers, assuring them he does not bear a grudge, and that God had orchestrated previous events to rescue the family from the famine.
The connection is particularly strong with Benjamin and they embrace first, weeping. The rabbis say the brothers also wept for the Temples and Tabernacle, which would be built in their respective territories and be destroyed. Jacob’s reaction on hearing the amazing news mirrors Joseph’s.
There is a connection between them, but when father and son meet, the text only describes Joseph embracing his father and weeping, with no reaction from Jacob. Here again there is a spiritual overlay: the rabbis say Jacob was reciting the Shema, renewing his connection with God in the very moment he was reunited with his son, as a way of channelling his joy.
We don’t need to wait for potential disaster to acknowledge God; his presence is also there in times of great joy.
- Vicki Belovski is rebbetzin of Golders Green Synagogue