The Yosef saga concludes with the passing of his father, Ya’acob. Finally, we can see how the brothers really feel about each other without their worrying about how it will affect their father. Clearly, the brothers are afraid. They remark (likely incredulously) that Ya’acob commanded them to tell Yosef to forgive them! They then throw themselves before Yosef as his slaves. Heroically, Yosef tells them to not worry, that he is not God to judge them, and that in the end all worked out for the best.
The Torah spends a significant amount of ink on the Yosef story. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik recently remarked at our Young Leadership dinner with JICNY that it is because the story is really about Yehuda and his transformation into a selfless leader, which is a set up for the monarchy which will descend from him. Perhaps we can also suggest that the Torah prioritizes this story because the episode of Yosef is a story that will repeat throughout Jewish history.
Yosef leaves for a foreign land. There, he will be forced to hide his identity. His children will grow up without ever seeing an authentic Jewish home. And yet, in the end, his children, Ephraim and Menashe, will still be considered as the children of Israel. Ya’acob says that they too will be to him as Reuben and Shimon.
I saw this played out on my recent trip to the former Crypto Jewish community of Belmonte, Portugal. After hundreds of years of hiding in the shadows, preserving Judaism to the best of their abilities, they miraculously returned to open Judaism. And I see it each week at our Learners’ Service, as Jewish adults, Converso returnees, and others, joyously strive to return to Jewish living, as their ancestors once did.
Some suggest that Ya’acob did not recognize his two grandsons, as they did not ‘look’ like Jews (or he could have just been going blind like his own father did in old age). Ya’acob asked, ‘who are they’? To which Yosef replied, they are my sons, whom God gave to me here [in Egypt]. While they looked different from his other sons, Ya’acob accepted that their actions and identity were more important than their style of clothing. He therefore, blessed them too.
Personal circumstances often lead us in various directions, sometimes at the cost of our Jewish identity and observance. It can be in minor ways, and at times in major ones. Thankfully, there are opportunities to Jewishly educate ourselves and our children, regardless of stage of life. May we all merit to be like the children of Yosef, and be considered as the children of Israel.