by Rabbi Shelton Donnell
Parashat VaYehi brings to a close the book of Genesis and the story of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob has died and now that the patriarch is gone, the brothers approach Joseph full of fear, worried that he will now exact his revenge upon them for selling him into slavery so many years ago. So they tell him a white lie, “Your father commanded before his death, saying, ‘You shall say this to Joseph: Please, bear your brothers’ offense and their sin, because they dealt you bad.’ And now bear the offense of the servants of your father’s God.”
Now, Jacob never said that, but the brothers hoped their deception would convince Joseph to deal leniently with them. And what was Joseph’s reaction? He wept! He saw through their deception, but he consoled them and told them not to be afraid. And, the Torah said, “he spoke on their heart (על לבם al libam).”
Finally, Joseph broke the cycle of deception and family infighting that tore at Jacob’s clan for so many years. Even during the last seventeen years of relative peace and quiet there was evidently an undercurrent of fear and suspicion and the harboring of old hurts and grudges. According to the commentator, Richard Elliott Friedman, only now, with Joseph’s words, spoken on their heart, could the family find healing. It is often the case that one person—usually the one who is the “offended party”—must take the initiative to break the cycle of hurt and recrimination and bring peace and healing to a family.
So it is on a united and harmonious note that the ancestral sagas of Genesis come to an end. And thus the People of Israel is united and prepared to face the challenges ahead in the unfolding of the story of the Exodus.