I am your brother

Insights into this week's Torah reading.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

 Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple
PR


I AM YOUR BROTHER

In Gen. 45:3, Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, finally reveals himself to his brothers and says, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”

The question about his father is strange. Judah had already told him, “We have an elderly father” (Gen. 44:20).

Possibly Joseph’s question is intended as a rebuke to his brothers: “Now you talk about your father’s feelings and show concern that an aged parent will grieve if Benjamin doesn’t come home. What about the time when you sold me as a slave to Egypt and didn’t seem to care whether it would cause our father anguish?”

Joseph doesn’t need to be told that Jacob is still alive. What he does want, rather diplomatically, is to understand how they could suddenly be so concerned about Jacob when they must have seen years of sorrow on his face.
 

WHY WAS JACOB AFRAID?

Jacob was scared to leave home and move to Egypt. God told him, “Don’t be afraid”.

How could he be afraid when he was going to a land where his son was a powerful official and the family would have plenty to eat?

The patriarch was afraid because he could hardly believe his good fortune. When he eventually told Pharaoh that he had had a hard life he was not making it up but telling the truth. Now it was like Psalm 126, "Shir HaMa’alot", and the dream was coming true.

But dreaming isn’t the only translation of “hayinu k’chol’mim” in Psalm 126. The root chet-lamed-mem can also mean to heal or recover, and in that sense the future would be a time of calm and recuperation after all the years of turbulence.

Hence God’s words were not only “Don’t be afraid” but also “I will be with you”… “Hold My hand and I will be with you in your joy”.


GREAT AS JEWS

We are used to great Jews playing a seminal role in the development of the nations of the world. The tradition began with this week's Torah portion.

BS Jacobson points out in his "Binah BaMikra", Joseph – Minister for Food Supply in Pharaonic Egypt – was "the first in the long series of Jewish men who have rendered outstanding service to foreign governments and peoples in the lands of the Diaspora.

"From him down to our contemporaries, they have given of the best of their greatness loyally and unreservedly."

The people concerned would echo this judgment, except for some reservations about the term "foreign governments". They would argue that their public-spirited service was not to a "foreign" government at all but to a nation with which they identified and embraced.

Such countries were immensely enriched because of the talents, energies and devotion of leaders who were great Jews at the same time.

At a fascinating period in Australian history when a whole sheaf of notable offices was held by Jews I took the liberty on a public occasion to point out that almost every one of the Jewish figures concerned were not only great Jews but identifying Jews.

To Rav Kook, the dream was that "those who are great amongst the Jews will be great as Jews", and in so many cases his words have proved prophetic.

In my own experience, the parliamentary and other speeches given by great Jews often specifically acknowledged and cited Jewish sources; how I know is that so often it was I who was asked for an apt quotation from the Chumash, from Pir'kei Avot or from some other source.

I am also aware that even in formulating their political and economic platforms, Jewish ideas, whether or not stated as such, played a role.

All this is in the best tradition of Joseph. Long may it continue.


THE JERUSALEM FRAME-UP

Benjamin is in trouble, accused of a wrong he did not commit. Judah steps forward to plead on his behalf. It is Joseph, their own brother, who hears the plea, but so far the brothers are not aware of Joseph’s identity.

Judah begins his speech with exquisite courtesy and restraint. Gradually, says the Midrash, his voice becomes so loud that he is roaring.

What is he determined to say in tones so loud and clear? That it is all a massive frame-up, and Benjamin must not be allowed to be taken away from his father. The unfairness, the injustice of it all has to be got across.

And so effective is Judah’s wrath that Joseph has to give way, reveal his identity and let Benjamin go.

What a parable of the major problem that Israel is facing at this crucial moment in history. Jerusalem is on the agenda. Its name means City of Peace, but its status is the subject of a growing war of words.

Though important for all the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is uniquely attached to the history, experience, aspirations and destiny of the Jewish people. As it has been said, the Jews never forsook Jerusalem and Jerusalem never forsook the Jews.

Teddy Kollek said, “Jews care immensely about Jerusalem. The Christians have Rome and Canterbury and even Salt Lake City; Muslims have Mecca and Medina. But the Jews have only Jerusalem, and only the Jews have made it their capital. That is why is has so much deeper a meaning for them than for anybody else…”

Yitzhak Rabin said, “Three thousand years of dreams and prayers today wrap Jerusalem in love and bring close Jews of every generation – from the fires of the Inquisition to the ovens of Auschwitz, and from all corners of the earth – from Yemen to Poland.”

But voices are heard – from those who should know better – urging that the barbed wire should come back to sever one part of the city from the other, leaving Israel with only half a city.

For years already we have heard the even more grotesque allegation that not even half the city belongs to Israel and Israel has no right to call any part of Jerusalem its capital.

It’s a shame that the voice of united Jerusalem itself is not heeded, Judah-like, with its message, “What you are saying about me is a frame-up, and you know it”. Jerusalem is one city and it cannot and must not be dismembered.

There is no evidence that Israel has denied freedom of access or religious tolerance to any of the minority religions that have their presence in the city. There is no evidence that Israel is incapable of governing the whole city justly with proper regard to the rights and needs of all its inhabitants.

It is another historic frame-up to suggest that redividing the city would bring peace.

Joseph heeded the roar of Judah. Today’s world needs to heed the roar of Jerusalem that says, “Leave me in peace!”



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