Part of the Torah portion: Judah approaches Joseph to plead for the release of Benjamin, offering himself as a slave to the Egyptian ruler in Benjamin’s stead. Upon witnessing his brothers’ loyalty to one another, Joseph reveals his identity to them.“I am Joseph,” he declares. “Is my father still alive?”
When Judah pleads with Joseph for the release of Benjamin, we hear something striking. Although Jacob "knew" that Joseph had been ripped apart by a wild animal, he could not believe in Joseph's death.
The Or HaChaim on Genesis 44:28:
אך טרוף טורף, "he must surely have been rippped apart." By quoting his father as using the diminutive אך, Yehudah may have hinted that their father had assumed that Joseph had been only injured by wild animals and that he was neither a slave nor a prisoner. When he had added: "and I have not seen him again until now," he indicated that Joseph was still alive but that Jacob had not seen him again since
He could not believe the death of his beloved son and refused to be comforted, resulting in 22 years of mourning.
וַיִּקְרַ֤ע יַעֲקֹב֙ שִׂמְלֹתָ֔יו וַיָּ֥שֶׂם שַׂ֖ק בְּמׇתְנָ֑יו וַיִּתְאַבֵּ֥ל עַל־בְּנ֖וֹ יָמִ֥ים רַבִּֽים׃
וַיָּקֻ֩מוּ֩ כׇל־בָּנָ֨יו וְכׇל־בְּנֹתָ֜יו לְנַחֲמ֗וֹ וַיְמָאֵן֙ לְהִתְנַחֵ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר כִּֽי־אֵרֵ֧ד אֶל־בְּנִ֛י אָבֵ֖ל שְׁאֹ֑לָה וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ אֹת֖וֹ אָבִֽיו׃
"Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and observed mourning for his son many days.All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.” Thus his father bewailed him." (Genesis 37:34-35)
We can well imagine Jacob's grief. How can a parent accept that his (or her) child dies, and even more so from an accident for which apparently no one is responsible - after all, no one is to blame if a wild animal kills him on a deserted road.
Twenty-two years, which is a lot longer than a usual Judaism traditionally mourning period, which has five stages of mourning:
1) Aninut, pre-burial mourning. 2-3) Shivah, a period of seven days after the funeral; within Shivah, the first three days are characterised by more intense mourning. 4) Shloshim, the mourning period of 30 days. 5) The First Year (observed only by the children of the deceased).
Although the loss of a loved one remains, we must eventually - even in the will of the deceased - resume our lives. Knowing that the soul of the deceased has been taken by HaShem to a fitting place. What made a great man like Jacob unable to do that?
Was it because no one was responsible for his death? There was no one to blame but...?
Normally, Joseph's older brothers could be held responsible for his death. After all, older brothers are the guardians of the young. As we can learn from the story of Cain and Abel. HaShem asked Cain, where is your brother? And Cain replied; am I his keeper?
A (seemingly) senseless death may be even harder to accept than if you could think of a reason for it. Was that the reason Jacob was inconsolable?
Or perhaps the reason for his inconsolability was that - because he had never been able to physically say goodbye to Joseph - and that's why he could not accept his death and deep down remained hopeful that he might still be alive? After all, don't we see that around us with those who have to miss their loved ones but have not been able to bury them because they are "lost"?
Perhaps his greatest grief/pain was that he did not understand what was really going on? After all, how could Joseph, his Joseph, the son of his dreams, the son of his hopes not be there anymore.
It had been Joseph who had dreamt of the sheaves, of the sun, moon and stars all bowing before him. All the words Joseph had spoken about his dreams, Jacob had been memorised them in his heart. He knew Joseph's spiritual greatness; he knew his dreams had prophetic value. He knew that Joseph was going to play a great leadership role for the sake of his family, his people. It was for this reason that he taught him all the Torah knowledge he had gained in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever to Joseph.
What could now come true of the dreams, of the prophecies, of the hope that Joseph would lead the people? And if it was not Joseph who would lead the family, what would become of the family, what would become of the world if there was no family from which the Jewish people would emerge. What would the world be without the Jewish people to make the world a habitable place for HaShem. All hope for his family, all hope for the world was lost with Joseph.
Joseph who had been chosen by HaShem to be a leader, Joseph who - it seemed - had been taken away from life by HaShem.
Jacob was inconsolable for his son, for the world, for the failure to make the world a habitable place for HaShem.
Joseph had understood that everything is in HaShem's hands and that everything happens according to His will, and that everything is for the better.
וְעַתָּ֣ה ׀ אַל־תֵּעָ֣צְב֗וּ וְאַל־יִ֙חַר֙ בְּעֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם כִּֽי־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י הֵ֑נָּה כִּ֣י לְמִֽחְיָ֔ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֱלֹהִ֖ים לִפְנֵיכֶֽם׃
Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.
When you start walking the path of the 7 Noahide Laws, living in accordance with HaShem's will, there may be many things you don't understand. Family members who no longer want to see you, friends who abandon you. You may feel alone and sad. From Jacob we can learn that when we don't understand HaShem, despite wanting to do the right thing, we are allowed to feel sorrow. From Joseph we can learn that eventually everything will turn for the better.
Joseph is our recognition in HaShem's all-encompassing goodness. The moment we make that our own, we can embrace our past, our sorrow - Jacob.
Angelique Sijbolts is one of the main writers for the Noahide Academy. She has been an observant Noahide for many years. She studies Torah with Rabbi Perets every week. Angelique invests much of her time in editing video-lectures for the Rabbis of the Academy and contributes in administrating the Academy's website in English and Dutch. She lives in the north of the Netherlands. Married and mother of two sons. She works as a teacher in a school with students with special needs. And is a Hebrew Teacher for the levels beginners en intermediate. She likes to walk, to read and play the piano.
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