Parashat Vayigash 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
Looking for peace in the story of Jacob and his sons
In this Torah Thoughts I would like to highlight how the concept of Shalom, peace, is one of the themes of the story of Jacob and his sons.
At the beginning of their story it is written in the Torah: “But when his brothers saw that their father (Jacob) loved him (Joseph) more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him,” וְלֹ֥א יָכְל֖וּ דַּבְּר֥וֹ לְשָׁלֹֽם (Bereshit 47:4).
There was so much hatred in Jacob’s family that the brothers could not speak a friendly word to Joseph. There was no peace in their home.
Then, Jacob spoke to Joseph: “Your brothers are pasturing at Shechem. Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Go and see how your brothers are (their shalom) and how the flocks are faring and bring me back word.” וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ לֶךְ־נָ֨א רְאֵ֜ה אֶת־שְׁל֤וֹם אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ (Bereshit 37: 14).
Jacob asked Joseph to look for his brothers and see the shalom, the peace, amongst the brothers, and then to return home. It is ironic that Jacob sent Joseph to see their shalom and that that episode was the inflection point of the complete loss of peace in their home. Looking for his brothers, Joseph was lost and disappeared for a long time. He was lost on his mission to look for peace. The brothers returned home but Joseph did not. Jacob’s wholeness and peace were shattered for asking for peace.
In last week’s parashah, we also find this theme. When Jacob’s sons came to Egypt asking for food, Joseph, hiding his identity, asked them: “He greeted them (le-shalom), and he said, “How (ha-shalom) is your aged father of whom you spoke? Is he still in good health?” וַיִּשְׁאַ֤ל לָהֶם֙ לְשָׁל֔וֹם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הֲשָׁל֛וֹם אֲבִיכֶ֥ם הַזָּקֵ֖ן אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֲמַרְתֶּ֑ם הַעוֹדֶ֖נּוּ חָֽי׃ . They replied, “It is well (shalom) with your servant our father; he is still in good health.” And they bowed and made obeisance.” וַיֹּאמְר֗וּ שָׁל֛וֹם לְעַבְדְּךָ֥ לְאָבִ֖ינוּ עוֹדֶ֣נּוּ חָ֑י וַֽיִּקְּד֖וּ וישתחו (Bereshit 43: 27-28). After many years without knowing anything about his family, the first thing that Joseph asked his brothers was about their shalom and his father’s shalom.
I believe that it is not a coincidence that Joseph asked his brothers about peace, when the last time that he saw his father, Jacob was asking him to look for peace. Since that inflection point in their lives, none of the members of the family could find peace. Jacob, the brothers, and Joseph had suffered for many years for their lack of peace.
When Joseph asked his brothers to bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, he said: “…the rest of you go back in peace to your father.” וְאַתֶּ֕ם עֲל֥וּ לְשָׁל֖וֹם אֶל־אֲבִיכֶֽם׃ (Bereshit 44:17) Once again, Joseph worried about his family’s peace.
At the end of the story, in this week’s parashah, the Torah tells us that Joseph revealed his identity, he embraced his brother Benjamin and wept, he kissed all his brothers and wept upon their shoulders. And then, Jacob and Joseph met each other again and Jacob said: “Now I can die, having seen for myself that you are still alive.” (Bereshit 46:30)
After many years of suffering and pain, Jacob could find peace after meeting his son Joseph again. He felt that he was ready to die because he could find the longed-for peace in his life.
In this week’s parashah, at the end of the story of Jacob and his sons, after the family’s reunification and reconciliation, they could find the peace lost in their younger years. It took them a lot of time to find it. It took them a long journey until they could sit together, embrace each other, with their souls in peace.
This is a story of hate, pain, and envy, but also a story of reconciliation, forgiveness, and love; it teaches us that it is possible to find peace in our society, family, friends, and in our souls. It is important to be patient, to have hope, to pursue our journeys and dream to find peace as our ancestors found it many centuries ago.
Jacob asked Joseph to look for his brother’s peace and finally, after a long journey with many obstacles, Joseph, his brothers and Jacob could be united in peace.