Vayigash, Hebrew for “and he drew near”, recounts the story of how Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Egypt. Many years after they sold him into slavery, Joseph has risen to be the second most powerful man in Egypt, behind only Pharaoh himself. His brothers have traveled from Canaan to Egypt to bring back bread for their father Jacob. As the parsha begins, Joseph’s older brother Judah is about to plea to the lord of Egypt—whom he still has not recognized—for the release of Benjamin, whom Joseph had framed for the theft of a goblet.
Throughout the parsha, the brothers grapple with the hurt they’ve caused each other and their beloved father. Time has had varied effects on the brothers and their father: Joseph’s position in the world has changed the most, but he still has some of the arrogance that provoked his brothers’ hatred. Jacob, meanwhile, is frozen in time, mourning the son he thought dead and proclaiming that should a similar fate befall Benjamin, he would die of grief. Judah, finally, has become more selfless and understanding. Previously, he spoke up to prevent his other brothers from killing Joseph, but still suggested selling him off as a “compromise”; this time, he volunteers himself as collateral for Benjamin.
His plea is a stirring one: “…our father, said to us, ‘You know that two did my wife bear me…And should you take this one, too, from my presence and harm befall him, you would bring down my gray head in evil to Sheol.” (44:27-30)
Clearly, Jacob is still playing favorites, speaking of Rachel as if she was his only wife, whereas Leah actually bore the majority of his children. He dismisses her existence, even as he speaks to her sons. This is the same blatant favoritism that once prompted his other sons’ fierce jealousy. However, Judah recounts his father’s forlorn statement without a hint of resentment, but rather empathy and compassion. Judah has come to accept his father’s slights of his mother, his brothers, and even himself as an inescapable part of who the patriarch is.
Judah’s acceptance of his father can be an example to us: I often think about how meditation has allowed me to handle my inner weaknesses and frustrations with more compassion. But sometimes our frustrations with other people perturb us just as much. When we get frustrated with others, we’re unable to avoid the effects of those emotions. If Judah hadn’t reacted to his father’s favoritism with compassion, his pride might have spiraled out of control, perhaps allowing Benjamin to be held captive in Egypt, and thus the reunification of the house of Israel might never have happened. Instead, his ability to let go of that resentment allowed his love for his father and brother to guide his actions and created the opportunity for a beautiful reconciliation.
We all have felt hurt or forgotten by the people closest to us, and often with good reason. I’ve spent plenty of time wondering what I might have said or done wrong when someone I love becomes distant; or, in the opposite position, why a friend can’t understand my need for space and instead puts me under pressure to give of myself when I don’t feel like I have much to give. We’re often not “wrong” to feel that way, and sometimes friends really do let us down or expect too much of us. A meditation practice won’t necessarily change the way we evaluate a situation, but it can help us perceive those around us in their wholeness, and acknowledge the things we feel frustrated about as part of a larger whole that we still love.
My kavannah for this week is to take the opportunity to let go of the some of the most persistent frustrations and resentments we hold for those who are closest to us. We don’t need to forget what aspects of their personalities we find problematic, or assume they can never be improved, but if we adopt a bit of equanimity towards those aspects, we can feel a greater, purer love for them and avoid feelings of hurt pride in ourselves.