December 23rd 2023.
By Joseph Shulam.
The last weeks of readings in the book of Genesis deal with the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. The story of Joseph is one of the longest sagas in the Hebrew Bible.
Our Torah reading this Shabbat is Vayigash:
The reading is from Genesis 44:18 – 47:27. Some of the most dramatic events in the book of Genesis come from this week’s reading in the Torah.
From the prophets the reading is Ezekiel’s 37:15-28
This is a very dramatic reading and filled with prophetic predictions that my generation and in fact most of the world ought to have no problem identifying with in this long and laborious book.
From the New Testament the reading comes from the last chapter of the book of Luke 24:30-48.
So dear prayer partners there is a common thread in the tradition of Torah reading for this upcoming Shabbat.
I would like to dive directly into the text of Genesis chapter 44. The chapter starts with the trick and entrapment that Joseph is setting for his brothers and specifically for his younger brother Benjamin so that Joseph would have a good excuse to keep Benjamin close and not send him back to the land of Canaan with his brothers. I believe that Joseph does it for the protection of Benjamin and for no other reason. Yes, Joseph is suspicious of his brothers. In his mind is this question, have they really changed? Will my brothers do the same to Benjamin, my younger brother from our mother Rachel? Are they still as bad as they were when they wanted to kill me and then sold me as a slave to the band of Midianites? Remember that Joseph has not yet revealed himself to his brothers. They still don’t know who this Egyptian high-level politician really is. The brothers don’t know that Benjamin didn’t take that silver cup without permission. They probably believe that Benjamin did take the cup and all of them will be in deep trouble stealing a silver cup from the Table of the Second in command in the Royal court of Pharaoh. By Joseph’s behavior, and his Egyptian high society dress and his office there is no reason that they would believe this would be Joseph their brother whom they hated and persecuted years ago, maybe still hate.
The next thing we see and hear is that Yehuda, the same brother who many years earlier prevented the brothers from killing Joseph and suggested that they sell him to the Israelites, is now offering to stay in the Egyptian jail house in place of Benjamin his younger brother. Something must have changed in Yehuda’s heart. He changed enough that he didn’t want to allow his younger brother Benjamin to be in jail in Egypt and was willing to take Benjamin’s place and go to jail. This was actually a major change in Yehuda’s character. When in Genesis chapter 37 the brothers wanted to kill Joseph and Yehuda intervened and convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph but to sell him, Christian commentators suggest that the suggestion came about in order to pocket the money, and not in order to save his brother Joseph’s life. At least most of the Church fathers from the 2nd century CE onward stereotyped Yehuda after Judah Iscariot. As a Jew who would sell their own family for money, Gold or Silver. However in our reading this Shabbat we see a totally different Yehuda. A Yehuda who says: I am willing to stay in Egypt in Jail in place of my brother Benjamin. I will take the punishment for Benjamin.
Yehuda tells the story of the family, and how the loss of one of their own brothers caused their father much sorrow, and who still continues to grieve for Joseph his lost son. He begs Joseph to allow him to take the place of Benjamin and stay in Egypt in jail in Benjamin’s place. This melts the heart of Joseph and we have one of the most dramatic scene in the whole Bible. Joseph asks all the Egyptians to leave the room with eyes watering and a heart so wounded with sorrow for his father’s sorrow. Joseph breaks down with and says: “I am Joseph your Brother!” – I don’t know a more dramatic moment in the whole Bible. Joseph was playing it cool as a stranger to his brothers up to this point, but when Joseph heard and saw the changes in the character of Judah and his willingness to stay in Egypt in jail in order not to cause grief to Jacob his father, Joseph also melted, and he began to cry. From this point the narrative changes and Joseph gives the land of Goshen to his family, of course with the permission and blessing of Pharaoh himself.
The encounter and revelation of Joseph to his brothers, the same brothers that at one point wanted to kill him and finally agreed to sell him… And now years later after Joseph was himself 20 years in the Egyptian jail and suffered the sorrow that comes from your own brothers betrayal and the cause of such deep grief to your own father.
It seems that the happy ending of the book of Genesis renders everything under God’s economy fixable and even a scandalous family like Jacob’s restorable.
The good news from this story of Jacob, Joseph and his brothers is the following:
1. There is always room for forgiveness, even after many years and even in such horrible sinners as Joseph’s brothers.
a. What makes the forgiveness possible is the fact that Judah tells the truth and confesses the sorrow and grief that Jacob their father was suffering grieving for the loss of his beloved son Joseph for many years not knowing and thinking that Joseph is dead.
b. The second reason for the change of heart of both Joseph, Judah and the other is Judah’s personal example and willingness to sacrifice for his younger brother Benjamin.
2. Joseph’s confession and forgiveness for all his brothers was a breaking point for all and a healing point for all. If even one of the brothers had been hard-nosed and refused to confess the whole story would have ended in a very different way. Joseph would not have forgiven his brothers so easily. There is power in a public confession. The confession and crying of all the brothers melted Joseph’s heart. You see my dear brothers, doing good and confessing our sins one to another is infectious. Confession of sins in front of the community of saints is also contagious and if one turns and comes forward usually this opens the door to others and mass confessions have been experienced with the encouragement of others to muster the strength to say, “Lord I am a sinner please forgive me.
Sin is infectious and can take a good child away from his home or focus. The same is true for confession. It is electrifying and inspiring and people who would normally never get up and confess their sins in public will do so after the encouragement of someone else that walks down to the front of the congregation and confesses. Judah’s confession is the pivotal point that changes Joseph enough to start crying with tears in his eyes and falls on the shoulders of his brothers and says: “I am Joseph your brother!” Yes, he looks like an Egyptian Nobleman. Yes, Joseph is an all-powerful leader, next to Pharaoh himself, but under his tailor-made clothing, Joseph is the son of Israel, and after all the years that Joseph administers the Egyptian economy he didn’t delete his faith in God or his love for his people and even for those of his brother that had conspired to kill him.
3. In Judaism there is a development in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE a sense of Joseph as a messianic figure. An archetype of a savior that is at first feared and distant, and in the end becomes the redeemer of his family and a redeemer of the Hebrew nation. The figure of Joseph becomes a messianic figure, first rejected and persecuted by his own brothers, and in the end becomes their savior. First Joseph is accused as a foreigner and stranger and in the end, Joseph is hailed as the provider of life for all his family.
Here are some texts from Rabbinical Literature on The Messiah Son of Joseph!
“Apropos the eulogy at the end of days, the Gemara asks: For what is the nature of this eulogy? The Gemara answers: Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis disagree concerning this matter. One said that this eulogy is for Messiah ben Yosef who was killed in the war of Gog from the land of Magog prior to the ultimate redemption with the coming of Messiah ben David. And one said that this eulogy is for the evil inclination that was killed.”
The Gemara asks: Granted, according to the one who said that the lament is for Messiah ben Yosef who was killed, this would be the meaning of that which is written in that context: “And they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son” (Zechariah 12:10). However, according to the one who said that the eulogy is for the evil inclination that was killed, does one need to conduct a eulogy for this? On the contrary, one should conduct a celebration. Why, then, did they cry?
The Gemara answers: This can be understood as Rabbi Yehuda taught: In the future, at the end of days, God will bring the evil inclination and slaughter it in the presence of the righteous and in the presence of the wicked. For the righteous the evil inclination appears to them as a high mountain, and for the wicked it appears to them as a mere strand of hair. These weep and those who weep. The righteous weep and say: How were we able to overcome so high a mountain? And the wicked weep and say: How were we unable to overcome this strand of hair? And even the Holy One, Blessed be He, will wonder with them, as it is stated with regard to the eulogy: “So says the Lord of hosts: If it be wondrous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it should also be wondrous in My eyes” (Zechariah 8:6).
(Babylonian Talmud,Tractate Sukkah page 52a-b.)
In these texts is a very interesting discussion dealing with the text of Zechariah 12. Here is the core text of the issue:
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves;”. (Zechariah 12:10-12 NKJV)
Notice in these texts that there are two messiahs mentioned in the discussion. There is Messiah son of Joseph who is killed and the people mourn and cry for him because he was pierced. There is also Messiah son of David, and he will be fighting in the plain of Megiddo (Har-Maggedon) and in this battle there will be mourning and crying each family on his own.
The Messiah son of Joseph is the archetype to focus on in our Torah reading on Shabbat. The Messiah son of Joseph will be killed. He will be pierced, and they will mourn for him like God’s only begotten son! These texts correspond with the text of the prophet Zechariah in Chapter 12, but also with the Rabbinical texts that correspond with the Rabbinical texts in the Babylonian Talmud. The Rabbi’s discussions are interesting in these contexts. 1) They have two messiah’s or two comings of the Messiah. In the first coming the Messiah is the suffering Messiah son of Joseph. In the second coming the Messiah is coming as the son of David, a warrior Messiah that will come to execute judgment.
I realize that this kind of Jewish literature seems strange to most of our readers, but it is important in my opinion to see that there are ideas of two messiahs or as for us the disciples of Yeshua – we have one messiah who comes twice with different functions. The first time, the Messiah son of Joseph will come and die and be pierced for us. The second messiah will come as the son of David and he will come to execute judgment on the Earth.
The story of Joseph has some of the same elements of the life and mission of Yeshua:
1. Both are rejected by his own brothers.
2. Both have families that desire to kill them, and are purchased by gentiles who enslave them and they do not die.
3. Both return as a savior and redeemer of his people and family.
I hope that I didn’t get you all confused with all this rabbinical stuff. The main point dear brother and sisters is that Joseph is a type of a messianic figure, first rejected and hated and then alienated and ultimately becomes the savior of his family. This is the main point of this teaching about Joseph and the dramatic revelation of who he really is. I somehow foresee that when Yeshua returns many might not recognize him, and he with tears in his eyes will say, “I am Yeshua son of David your brother!”
Our dear brother Elhanan Ben -Avraham wrote a booklet on the life of Joseph son of Jacob and the life of Yeshua the Messiah and their relationship and parallels. You can order this book from the www.Netivyah.org website and enjoy a full narrative and comparison between the story of Joseph and the life and teaching of Yeshua the Messiah.