He Wanted to say, “My Father” Out Loud

Quick comment on parashat Va-yigash

How I treasure the memory of my yearlong study of the Joseph story with the amazing Nehama Leibowitz, of blessed memory, in Jerusalem.
Each week she masterfully held a room of 60 people in the palm of her hand, and engaged us every minute we were in her classroom.

In discussing this week’s portion she asked, ”Why does Joseph say, ‘Is my father still alive?’” (Or if you like the modern translations, which in this case I do not, “Is my father still well?”) After all he had just heard Judah say that his father was indeed alive.

Among the many answers proffered to her query, one has stayed in my mind these 44 years. A young Japanese man on the other side of the room responded in a way that Professor Leibowitz exclaimed that she had never heard before in her long teaching career and which she loved: “He wanted to say the words, ‘my father’ out loud.”

Wow! When we had that particular lesson, I had just returned to Jerusalem from a month-long trip back to the states to bury and mourn my father.

This past November on Kristallnacht I had the privilege of delivering three speeches, in Leipzig, Germany, the city where my father was arrested and abused on that fateful night in 1938. (See those blog posts at http://www.rabbifuchs.com),

Everything Joseph did, he did not for revenge but to see if his brothers had changed from the men who callously sold him as a slave years ago. When Judah–the perpetrator of Joseph’s sale–offers to exchange himself for his brother Benjamin, Joseph knows what he needs to know. He ends his charade and reveals himself to his brothers and forgives them. He can now say the precious words out loud: ”My father!” Those words were precious to Joseph thousands of years ago. They are precious to me today.

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