Parashat Vayigash, 2020

“Chesed V ́emet – Love and Truth”

The reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers is one of the most eloquent scenes, not just of the Bible, but of all world literature.

Let’s review the facts. After having children with Leah and the 2 concubines, Jacob finally had a son with his beloved Rachel, who he obviously spoiled and overprotected above his brothers. Young Joseph begun to have dreams of greatness, which he told to his brothers, and as such he won their hatred.

One day Jacob sent Joseph to look for his brothers who were delayed. Upon seeing him, they threw him in a well and wanted to kill him, but in the end they decided not to spill his blood themselves and instead sell him as a slave. They took the special robe that Jacob had given only to him, stained it with blood, and told Jacob that Joseph was killed by a beast.

Imagine the pain of the old patriarch! Chazal, our rabbis of blessed memory would say: “Middah keneged middah,” Jacob had deceived his father and now his children deceive him.

Meanwhile, Joseph has various adventures filled with successes and failures, that brought him first to jail and then, thanks to his ability to interpret dreams, to become second in Egypt, only after Pharoah.

A tremendous drought drove the children of Jacob down to Egypt where they were received by Joseph, who they did not recognize. But Joseph recognized them. He deceived and mistreated them, even accusing the youngest, Benjamin, of thievery, wanting to put him in jail.

This is the moment when Vayigash, this week ́s Parsha, begins.

Yehuda, who interestingly will be the head of the tribe that will prevail in Israel, approached and opened his mouth and gave a fabulous speech, in that he finally opened his heart and told the truth, conveying all his feelings to someone he thought was a stranger.

The biblical text reaches the climax when Joseph cannot contain himself. He asked all the Egyptians who were present to leave and cried out in perfect Hebrew: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery”. Before his brothers’ faces of surprise and fear, he approached them, hugged them one by one, asked them about their father Jacob, and they cried together.

This is not an ordinary reconciliation. There is a river of lies, cruelty, and power struggles behind the story.

But it seems to me that there are 2 basic elements that unlocked this vicious circle that didn ́t lead them to anything but more destruction and more pain. There are 2 basic elements, not only in this masterpiece of world literature, but in every relationship among human beings.

The first element is Truth. Every lie has short legs. Every half truth is a big lie.
If one wants to create a constructive relationship, one should stop lying, stop hiding, and stop playing poker and hiding aces up their sleeve. One should stop saying one thing to people’s faces and another behind their back.

Maybe one thinks of oneself as very clever, but according to my interpretation of Torah, it will inevitably lead to failure. One can spend their whole life hiding, escaping, and deceiving. And life fades away to the other side, while all one’s energy is squandered in fighting instead of being turned towards creative and constructive projects.

The truth of looking in people in the eyes and saying: I’m not playing a dirty, hidden game; I am not going behind your back; I am not making you step on a stick to do you harm. The head on truth can be sometimes hard, but the traitorous lie is always destructive.

The second basic element that I think unlocked the relationship between Joseph and his brothers and is capable of unlocking every human relationship is love. I don’t say it in the illusory sense of tales full of rainbows, flowers, and birds. Love is a human being’s most basic feeling and, at the same time, is the most direct channel to God.

When Judah spoke from his heart, he broke all of the shields that concealed the heart of his brother Joseph, and was able to touch him… and was able to move him.

Things can be done for many reasons and human behavior may have many motivations. Sometimes we act for our own interest, for convenience, for power, to be accepted or to not be rejected, out of fear or shame. But when we act for love, we only open doors, I think, helped by the very Shechina, the closest Presence of God.

Chesed ve Emet, truth and love, are like the salt and pepper to spice up life with meaning.
Interestingly, the group of people that deal with preparing and burying the dead are called Chesed ve Emet, as if there were no more truth than this limit; as if there were no more selfless love than that which is given to one who cannot repay it.

Judah addressed Joseph with Chesed and with Emet. He reached his soul and started from there, another story. And this week we will be finishing this unforgettable year 2020. This was a year that caused so many pain and suffering! So many dead and mourning, people losing jobs and seeing their life projects falling apart. This was a year that changed our life style.

This was a year where social moral illnesses reappeared again. Lies and fears, violence and brutality. Of course there were acts of heroism, and most of us made our best to deal with the reality that suddenly invaded and controlled everything. We learned a lot, and became, I hope, wiser.

This week we don ́t just turn the number of the year from 2020 to 2021. With it, we start a new beginning, still with questions unanswered, but with renewed hope.

As B ́nei Israel, the sons of Jacob, in this new beginning we need reconciliation. And as we learned from Yehuda, Truth and Love should be the pillars that we may use if we want to reconcile ourselves with each other and with life.

May God bless us and all creatures with a 2021 of health, hope, truth, love and reconciliation.