The Torah Portion for Sunday 12th December is called Vayigash meaning “And He Approached” Genesis 44:18– to the end : The Haftorah is Ezekiel 37:19 and 20 and The New Testament is from Luke 24: 30-48
In last week’s Torah, Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams correctly and becomes Prime Minister of Egypt. There’s a famine in the land and Jacob sends his sons down to Egypt to buy grain. They meet Joseph but don’t recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and entraps them to see whether his brothers have changed. He plants a silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack and he is arrested and enslaved. Judah appeals to Joseph to make him a slave in his place because to enslave Benjamin would break his Father Jacob’s heart - the shock would kill him and in this week’s Torah portion he begins his plea. So, we are witnessing a change of heart in Judah – a turn around – he repents – and that is what repentance means – to turn around and to change.
Judah approaches Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin, offering himself as a slave to the Egyptian ruler in Benjamin’s stead. Upon witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another, Joseph reveals his identity to them. “I am Joseph,” he declares. “Is my father still alive?”
The brothers are overcome by shame and remorse, but Joseph comforts them. “It was not you who sent me here,” he says to them, “but God. It has all been ordained from above to save us, and the entire region, from famine.”
The brothers rush back to Canaan with the news. Jacob comes to Egypt with his sons and their families—seventy souls in all—and is reunited with his beloved son after 22 years. On his way to Egypt, Jacob receives the divine promise in a vision of the night: “Fear not to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again and Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” Gen 46:3
Joseph gathers the wealth of Egypt by selling food and seed during the famine. Pharaoh gives Jacob’s family the fertile land of Goshen to settle there. In a very emotional reunion, Joseph appeared before his Father Jacob, he threw his arms around him and wept for a long time. (vs 29)
The children of Israel prospered in their Egyptian exile. (i)
There is something amazing happening in this week’s Torah potion. This is the first recorded moment in history and in literature in which one human being forgives another. It happened when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers. While they were silent and in a state of shock, - this is a “deer in the headlights” moment – you can imagine it…. they draw near to Joseph.
When we confess and repent, we are told in James 4:8 “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. God loves you so much. Even if you think you are the worse sinner ever, just like the prodigal son, when you move, God runs to meet you.
He went on to say these words:
“I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. Genesis 45:5
It is interesting to learn here, that Joseph did not reveal himself to his brothers until Judah repented.
“For two years now there has been famine in the land, he says, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45: 4-8)
But the brothers did not fully believe him. He did not use the word “forgive” exactly. He told them not to be distressed. He said, ‘It was not you but God.’ He told them their act had resulted in a positive outcome. But they still did not believe Joseph because they still felt guilty years later. After Jacob their father had died they sent a message to Joseph to the effect that “our Father Jacob has asked that you “forgive” the crime of the servants of our God.” (Gen: 50:17)
Here the brothers actually used the word “forgive” but they were still unsure what Joseph meant by it. As I mentioned before, this is the very first place it is recorded in human history that one person forgives another.
Could Joseph really and truly forgive them for selling him into slavery? Joseph wept that his brothers had not fully understood that he had forgiven them long before. He no longer felt resentment toward them. He had no anger, and no desire for revenge. He had conquered his emotions by re-framing the sequence of events from God’s perspective.
However, by putting his brothers through a course in atonement, Joseph is teaching them, and us, what it means to forgive.
Recall what happens. First, he accuses the brothers of a crime they have not committed. He says they are spies. He has them imprisoned for three days. Then, holding Simeon as a hostage, he tells them that they must now go back home and bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin. In other words, he is forcing them to re-enact that earlier occasion when they came back to their father from Dotham without Joseph carrying his blood stain coat of many colours. Note what happens next:
They said to one another, “Surely we deserve to be punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us” … They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. [Gen. 42: 21-23]
This is the first stage of repentance. They admit they have done wrong.
Next, after the second meeting, Joseph has his special silver cup put in Benjamin’s sack. It is found and the brothers are brought back. They are told that Benjamin must stay as a slave. You will remember at Passover, Jesus “took the cup” on the night he was betrayed and said “this is the cup of the new covenant in my blood for the forgiveness of sins."
“What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.” [Gen. 44: 16]
This is the second stage of repentance. They confess. They do more: they admit collective responsibility. This is important. When the brothers sold Joseph into slavery it was Judah who proposed the crime (37: 26-27) and they were all complicit except Reuban.
Finally, at the climax of the story, Judah himself says “So now let me remain as your slave in place of the lad. Let the lad go back with his brothers!” (42: 33). Judah, who sold Joseph as a slave, is now willing to become a slave so that his brother Benjamin can go free. This is complete repentance, namely when circumstances repeat themselves, Judah could have done the same thing again but now he is a changed man. That is true repentance when you do not repeat the same mistake twice.
Joseph is now able to forgive and release his brothers, because they have gone through all three stages of repentance, admission of guilt, confession, and behavioral change.
Forgiveness only exists in a culture in which repentance exists. Repentance presupposes that we are free and morally responsible people who are capable of change, specifically the change that comes about when we recognize that something we have done is wrong and we are responsible for it and we must never do it again.
The idea of “forgiveness” was then adopted by the Church. This Judeo-Christian ethic of forgiveness and unconditional love are the primary lessons in our Christian walk, and for that we must be thankful to the Jewish people.
You will remember that when Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven”. His words come straight out of the Torah from the story of Joseph written two and a half thousand years before Jesus was born.
Repentance and forgiveness are the fundamental requirements if we call ourselves Christians and it transforms the human situation. In the story of Joseph, for the very first time in history, repentance established the possibility that we are not condemned endlessly to repeat the past. When we repent, we show we can change. The future is not predestined. We can make it different from what it might have been. Forgiveness liberates us from the past. Forgiveness breaks the irreversibility of reaction and revenge. It is the undoing of what has been done. Jesus taught us in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Humanity changed the day Joseph forgave his brothers and when we forgive and are worthy of being forgiven, we are no longer prisoners of our past.
The other important scenario in this week’s Torah portion is that Joseph was reconciled to his brothers by means of Judah’s repentance, and so, in the end of days, the followers of Messiah ben Joseph (Jesus as the suffering servant) will be reconciled with the Jewish people who are awaiting Messiah ben David (King of Kings). Like Judah and Joseph, when Israel repents to Yeshua for rejecting him for 2000 years, the veil will fall from their eyes and they will look upon the one they have pierced and weep as for the loss of an only begotten son.
The brothers did not know that it was Joseph, they didn’t recognise the man standing before them or that he was, in fact, Jewish and understood all that they said. Also, the Egyptians did not know Joseph was Jewish because he looked like an Egyptian and in Christianity today, many Gentiles do not know Jesus is Jewish and was, in fact, a Rabbi. The Gentiles were not the ones to open Judah’s eyes - it was Joseph who revealed himself to Judah. So, it will be with Jesus Messiah. He will open the eyes of the Jewish people. Jesus will reveal himself to his brothers.
In that day, both Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David will establish his kingdom on earth, and all Israel will be saved.
The New Testament portion linked into this story is from Luke 24: 30-48 “On the road to Emmaus” when Jesus walked beside two of his disciples after the crucifixion and they did not recognize Him until He broke bread with them. It reads, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him.”
The Prophetic portion of this week’s Torah readings is from Ezekiel 37:15-28 referring to the two “sticks” bound together - one for Judah and one for Joseph. It is using this visual aid to signify God’s intention to reunite the two Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, but it is also a visual of the church being grafted into Israel - Jew and Gentile being bound together as “One New Man."
What a marvelous story this is of Joseph’s life. A story of how God continually delivered him. It ends with the words in which the book of Genesis ends -- "a coffin in Egypt." In the coffin were the bones of Joseph. His last request was to have his body carried from Egypt and taken home to the Promised Land.
(i)Chabad Vayigash in a nutshell
(ii) Notes taken from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Vayigash
(iii) Hebrew4Christians on Haftorah Portion Ezekiel 37:19 and 20 Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (that is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him. And I will join with it the stick of Judah,[b] and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand.”