This week’s Torah portion is called VaYigash. You will find it in the book of Genesis. 44:18-47:27. The parashah deals with the reuniting of Joseph and his family.
To understand this section better, let us recap the Joseph story until this point. We pick up the storyline after Joseph’s brothers, who were jealous of him, sold him into captivity. Through a series of unique events, Joseph rises up the political ladder: from being a slave to Pharaoh’s chief-of-staff. At the same time, there is a drought in the Land of Israel, and due to famine conditions, Jacob sends his other sons to Egypt to buy grain. Ironically, the person who controls the grain is Joseph, who now confronts his brothers face to face and has the opportunity to take vengeance on them or of reuniting with his family and father, Jacob.
The text is complicated at best. Should we see it as a study in “lost opportunities”? Upon reading this text we have to wonder why Joseph made his family wait so long to inform them that he was alive. Did he not know how much his father was suffering due to his mistaken belief that his son Joseph was dead?
The tale is not kind to Jacob either. Meeting Pharaoh, Jacob uses his time to complain. Instead of rejoicing that his son is alive, Jacob takes a pessimistic outlook on life and bemoans his lost years. Might the Bible be teaching us an important lesson: that life is to be lived and not squandered; that to complain is often to accomplish nothing?
Is this text teaching us that in life that despite our circumstances in life, the quality of our lives also depends on how we choose to live it? The pessimist always lives his/her life complaining, there is always another worry; the optimist lives his/her life finding even in life’s problems new opportunities. The optimist knows how to take control of life and find new approaches to old problems. Life is often how we choose to approach it.
In the original Hebrew text, scholars note that Jacob’s complaint to Pharaoh was composed of 33 words (47:8-9). They also note that Jacob, the eternal pessimist, lived 33 years less than his father Isaac, who despite his many problems was an eternal optimist. Might Jacob have wasted 33 years of his life by approaching it from a negative perspective? Was Jacob so focused on himself that he lost a sense of joie de vivre?
How many of us often waste our lives by doing nothing more than complaining about perceived injustices instead of taking control of our lives and turning the negative into positives?
Having just finished our celebration of Chanukah did we learn to let the light of optimism inspire us to defeat the darkness of pessimism?
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