December 2018, Parshat Vayigash

Dear Friends,

This week’s Parsha is Parshat Vayigash. Vayigash picks up in the middle of the story of the reunification of Joseph and his brothers.

The Parsha begins by recounting the brothers’ fear that Joseph will take their youngest brother Benjamin and kill him after the “stolen” cup planted by Joseph himself was discovered in his bag. At the point where the brothers are crying, and the fear is palpable, in the words of the Torah, Joseph can no longer contain himself and reveals himself to his brothers.

He shouts and bursts into tears saying: “I am Joseph, is my father still alive? I am the brother you sold into servitude to Egypt.”

This revelation is met by silence by the brothers, so dumbfounded on account of Joseph’s unexpected revelation, they cannot even muster a response!

The Parsha tells of further emotional experiences, from the reunification of Joseph and his brothers to Jacob finding out that Joseph is still alive and then the eventual and long-awaited reunion of Jacob with his beloved son Joseph.

In many ways, the family dramas surrounding Joseph and his brothers and father represent many of the family dramas the people these days experience as their reality. While they may not take the exact form of selling brothers into slavery, they involve very serious allegations, mistrust and fighting amongst family members.

It is not always easy to get over a family disagreement.

In fact, family disagreements and breakdowns in close relationships can result in some really harmful effects for people involved. The charity beyondblue which is dedicated to helping people who are suffering from mental health problems, estimates that many mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and other associated issues can arise as a direct result of family breakdowns.

Not only can a breakdown in family structure result in mental illnesses, but there is often a direct link between domestic violence, substance abuse and addiction from these awful occurrences. These terrible outcomes are often linked to underlying and ongoing issues that often started in the home and with fellow family members.

I am not suggesting there is an easy fix. In fact, sometimes, it is easier to cease a toxic relationship and avoid open warfare and conflict.

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, who is the current chair of beyondblue, notes that in order to support each other, “…one thing we can all do is talk. You do not have to be an expert to talk about mental health or listen to someone….being there can make a difference.”
The Parsha, and the Torah by extension, is meant to reinforce timeless messages each week through the stories of our elders. It is not merely a history book that tells tales.

We can take the story of the reconciliation of the brothers, even after of the extended period of 22 years of separation and look to implement its message in our everyday lives.

I think that we all have relationships that we can continue to work on, whether it is a longstanding disagreement, a serious ongoing family broygus or just a recent dispute that has made you feel uneasy.

We can all do a little bit more to work towards reconciling with those we have had our disagreements with.

I am a realist; I realise that peace may not come immediately or the process of reconciling may take a very long time. However, I would like for each of us to be able to emulate the example of Joseph and his brothers to work towards a more harmonious coexistence.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi