Vayigash – Hard knocks life

27 Your servant, my father said to us:  You know that 2 sons were born to me by my wife. 28 One has gone from me, he said: he must have been devoured, I have not seen him until now.

Genesis 44

One essential character, Jacob, was home alone. A personal vacuum had stunted and shadowed his life for years. He was no longer waiting for Joseph who had disappeared. This gap in the story doesn’t tell us how he felt as he waited for his other sons who stood in the court in Egypt. His thoughts are unrecorded yet his agony will linger on for quite a while, turning his life into a continual march of sadness and despair.

1 Joseph could not restrain himself; to all his company he called: take everyone from me and no one stood with him; Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. 2 He cried out loud, all of Egypt heard, Pharaoh’s household heard.

Genesis 45

But would Joseph really have been happy remaining aloof at this stage of his plan? It turns out that leaving the brothers battered and beaten would not really revive his heart. They were all filled with tears and the expanding of hearts and minds of brothers in reconciliation.

26 They told him that Joseph was alive and he was ruling over all of Egypt; his heart failed him because he could not believe them.  27 They spoke to him of all the things Joseph had told them, they showed him the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him; Jacob’s spirit was revived. 28 Yisrael [1]The new name Jacob was given in Genesis 32 said: enough, my son Joseph lives I will go to see him before I die.

Genesis 45

But their father Jacob didn’t pronounce any words to hint of his feelings at the news of his son Joseph. More tears than words flowed out of him. Once he had schemed elaborate schemes, first against his brother Esau and his father Isaac and later his father-in-law Laban. Endless streams of tears engulfed in a gripping mist of agony after he lost Rachel and then Joseph. He carried these loved ones around with him wherever he went like a heavy mist hovering over a field. No sunlight could penetrate deep enough to diffuse the dim light that constantly engulfed.

If no prayers were recited to beg for Joseph’s safe return, why was there no hymn of praise or exultation when he heard that Joseph was alive? No rush of feeling to express his relief? He was like a safe, pried open years and years after the treasured hope had been locked away. The value of that treasure had no earthly price, so great and awesome the value of it on that day.

9 Jacob said to Pharaoh:  the number of my years come to 130; they’ve been few and terrible, and I have not achieved the number of years of my two forefathers.

Genesis 47

If only a message could have been sent on to us to understand how Jacob had managed. We only have his somber words recited as an embittered old man to Pharaoh.

What words might have filled him with a sublime feeling of freedom from the burden of grief.

One Rabbinic prayer might have served him well…[2]MODIM ANACHNU LACH

By Rabbi Shefa Gold

We give thanks to you YHWH, our God, God of our ancestors, today and always, the firm enduring source of strength from generation to generation.  …

Amidah Prayer of Thanks

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021

Sights and sounds to be thankful for…

Or the grand chorus from a 19th Century symphony: Ode to Joy – Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 – IV. Allegro assai vivace · Electronic notes


1 The new name Jacob was given in Genesis 32