Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
PARSHAT VAYIGASHB'rayshit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27
Haftorah Ezekial 37:15-28
In this week's Parsha Yosef finally reveals his true identity to his brothers. As we discussed in previous week's, Yosef disguised as the Egyptian viceroy, needed to accomplish two deeds:
1. He needed to know that his brothers were truly repentant for selling him into slavery.
2. He needed for them to perform an act of atonement for their misdeeds.
During his many conversations with his brothers, Yosef heard over and over again that his father Ya'akov was alive but still despondent over the loss of his favored son Yosef. Yet, when he finally does reveal himself, he sends all the Egyptians out of the room and says something very peculiar: "...And he said, ‘I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?'..." (B'rayshit 45:3)
All the commentators ask the obvious question, why would Yosef say "Is my father still alive?" Yosef knew that his father Ya'akov was alive, his brothers had repeatedly accerted this fact to him. The commentaries give a number of reasons for the questions, but I heard on an audio tape of Rabbi Yisochor Frand (lecturer at Yeshivah Ner Yisrael, in Baltimore, MD) a very powerful answer.
Rabbi Frand tells the story of a boy whose father deserted the family and left this boy totally devastated. His teachers tried all kinds of approaches to console and help the child through his misfortune. Over the course of the next few months, the child developed serious behavioral problems and regardless of how much love and attention his teachers gave him, the child's conduct worsened and he developed an indifference to all their gestures. Eventually his teachers gave up hope on breaking through to this boy and he was left to himself in the back row of the classroom.
One day his teacher was teaching the subject of Yosef revealing himself to his brothers and the statement that Yosef made, "...I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?" The teacher asked the same question that the commentaries asked. Why did Yosef ask if his father was still alive?
Suddenly the child perked up and answered the question. He said, Yosef knew that the father of his brother's was still alive, but he was asking, is MY father still alive? Has he given up hope on Me? Does he believe that if I were still alive, I would be beyond all hope, immersed in the paganism and idol worship of Egypt? Is MY father still alive?
This young man who suffered desertion and separation from his own father, relayed his own fears to Yosef's apprehension. Is MY father still alive? Does he still love me, does he still want me as his son?
I wonder how this concern is part of our anxieties in relation to our Father in heaven. How often do we need to feel close to our Father and yet, we feel that maybe He has forsaken us? How many times do we pray for a sign that Hashem, our Father cares, only to feel that no one is listening to our prayers? Is OUR father still alive? Is He involved in our lives or, has He forsaken us?
After 22 years of separation Yosef still yearned to know if his father was just grieving over the loss of his son, or, if he still cared for his well-being. We, who often need the reassurance of our Father in heaven, should take Yosef's example to heart. Doubt is a normal aspect of faith. To doubt does not mean that our Father is dead or worse, uncaring. Doubt can bring us to the realization that our job is to seek out our Father from within the doubts and questions that we all ask ourselves. Is our Father still alive - is the question that focuses our doubts to eventually reuniting with Him and His love for each of us.
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