Rabbi Joseph Abrams
The book of Genesis begins to wind down with Parshat Vayigash. It deals with the reconciliation of the brothers to Joseph and his forgiving them for their unbrotherly behavior toward him many years earlier.
The book of Genesis begins to wind down with Parshat Vayigash. It deals with the reconciliation of the brothers to Joseph and his forgiving them for their unbrotherly behavior toward him many years earlier. The Torah portion concludes with the reunion of Joseph with his father Jacob. Next week's Torah portion, Parshat Vayechi, ends the book of Genesis with Jacob's blessings to his sons before his death and finally with Joseph's death.
The book of Genesis presents an interesting study in conflict resolution throughout the 2,000 or so years of its recorded history. The first conflict is, of course, the one between the first brothers, Cain and Abel. There are different opinions of what they really argued over, but regardless of how one explains it, the resolution was dramatic Cain killed Abel. It was swift, cruel, and permanent.
After this incident, the next familial conflict we find is with Lot and Abraham. Abraham beseeches Lot not to argue with him because, "we are brothers" (Genesis 13:9). Their conflict was resolved by separation from each other. Even though Abraham risked his life to save Lot after this separation, there is no record of them ever interacting together after this separation. The conflict is resolved by their going separate ways.
In the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael, again we find that the two parties separated in order to resolve their conflict. While their parting is not necessarily permanent, it is dramatic and, according to many commentators, it was considered the 9th Divine test of faith for their father Abraham.
Jacob and Esau were also brothers in conflict, and again we find that the two part ways in order to assure that no one is killed. Even though there is a reunion of sorts many years later, they remain divided. Esau goes on to Mt. Seir and Jacob remains behind in the land of Canaan.
Laban refers to Jacob as, "my flesh and bones" (ibid. 29:14). Again the idea of a strong family relationship is resonated, yet there is conflict. It is resolved with a treaty, but in the end they part ways.
This pattern continues through the book of Genesis until we reach the conflict between Joseph and his brothers. It would seem that we are headed down the same path of bloodshed or separation, but we are pleased to find true reconciliation between the brothers. This reconciliation is the goal of all conflicts. The Torah seems to be teaching us a lesson that all conflicts are ultimately between brothers, and when left alone they can bring dire results. If corrected, and true resolution is achieved, it brings unity and fulfillment.
In next week's Torah portion, Jacob is prepared to reveal the future and tell the time of the Messiah's arrival. According to some commentators, he in fact does reveal this in his blessings to his children. In other words, the Messiah would only come after the brothers were reunited and prepared to live their lives together in harmony to the utmost degree.
In a sense, this is all hinted to in the name of this week's Torah portion, Vayigash, which means "to come close." Coming together and seeing each other as brothers and sisters is the true path of conflict resolution. This is the only way to ultimate peace in this world, with the coming of the Messiah speedily in our days.
Rabbi Joseph Abrams, who grew up in Atlanta, is the new headmaster of Yeshiva Atlanta.
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