Vayiggash: Embracing Our Convictions
As with most of you, I respond well to people with conviction. I may not agree with them on a particular matter, but I respect their integrity and sincerity. The subject of integrity arises in the Torah portion Vayiggash; but in a most unusual and ironic fashion. Joseph finally reveals his true identity to his estranged brothers. He arranges for the entire clan to come and live in Egypt; escaping the famine in Canaan. The clan arrives: Father Jacob and son Joseph are reconciled. Everyone is now settled in Goshen. A happy ending is assured.
For the most part…
After they are settled in their new (albeit, somewhat temporary) community; Joseph takes a few of his brothers to meet Pharaoh. Before the visit, Joseph ‘preps’ his brothers; advising them to describe themselves as breeders of livestock rather than as shepherds. Apparently, the Egyptians looked askance at shepherds. However, when the brothers finally meet Pharaoh and he inquires about their occupation; they describe themselves as shepherds! They ignore Joseph’s advice; speaking to Pharaoh candidly.
Knowing that they were sojourners in a foreign land, why would the brothers ignore Joseph’s sagely advice?
Why would Joseph rehearse his brothers in the first place?
In Joseph’s defense, we can assume that he has become an expert in Egyptian culture and behavior. Joseph does not encourage them to intentionally lie; he just bends the truth to avoid any negative encounters with the xenophobic natives. As commentary suggests; perhaps Joseph intends to both protect his brothers and to respect Egyptian custom at the same time? Why provoke the Egyptians; whose land the Israelites will now share? Perhaps Joseph acknowledges that despite his status and authority; the Egyptians will not be so accommodating to his family? Or, perhaps some fear of (at least) minimal anti-Semitism hangs over him?
On the other hand, maybe the brothers simply express pride in their profession? They spent so many years repeating a lie (about Joseph’s demise) that they now are truthful to a fault. In their native Canann, there is no shame in being a shepherd; the important thing is that they take pride in who they are and in what they do. In turn, Pharaoh not only responds favorably to the brothers; he appoints them to be keepers of his livestock!
Sometimes, in our zeal to impress specific people; we abandon our convictions. Joseph was afraid how Pharaoh would react to the shepherd brothers; yet Pharaoh was impressed by their conviction and honesty. He must have appreciated the brothers’ sense of pride; when they spoke so confidently and unwaveringly about their occupation. Despite the best of intentions; Joseph should have given Pharaoh a little more credit for judging the brothers not merely by occupation but by character.
Conviction goes a long way sometimes…
Mitzvah Alert: In the course of writing this column, I received a call from a family; whose father lived in North Shore Towers. He just died and the family is sitting shiva at the Towers through next Wednesday. We are not involved with the funeral, but the family reached out to see if we had anyone to participate in/lead a shiva minyan next Monday through Wednesday at 7:30pm. I will be away for a couple of days and cannot participate; but I agreed to share the information. The man who died is Jack Hammer; he lives in building #2; apartment 12L. For further information, his daughter Rena left her phone number: 516-410-0790.