Community Torah Corner, Jan. 6, 2023

Rabbi Ariann Weitzman
Bnai Keshet
Montclair, NJ
Parashat Vayechi

Parashat Vayechi concludes with one final scene in a long and winding path toward reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. Motivated by their father’s death and fear that Joseph would now turn on them in revenge, the brothers approach Joseph and ask forgiveness again, falling on their faces before him and offering themselves up as his avadim, slaves. Joseph responds to the double meaning of the word avadim, a term used for both servants of humans and worshippers of God. He says: “Do not fear! Am I a substitute for God?”
Joseph’s response brings to mind the moment, right before his brothers escalated their hatred of him from murmurings to contemplations of murder, when Joseph shared his dreams of lording over his brothers. In fact, Joseph’s dreams have come true in this moment - here are his brothers, bowing before him, offering their servitude. Isn’t this just what he dreamed? Isn’t he elevated over them now, with the power to destroy their lives just as he saved them years before? 

But at some moment along the way, Joseph reframed his own dream and what it meant to be in the center of his bowing brothers. As Rabbi Tali Adler writes, “It was always about the responsibility of standing in the center and providing for the whole. Of making sure that all were fed, and counted, and loved.”

It is in this final scene that Joseph comes to one last message in his dreams. For himself, the dream was a promise and a warning of future responsibility, not a promise of commanding his brothers’ servitude. But for his brothers, it was also an opportunity to redirect them toward the ultimate source of their protection. This was never about brothers serving brothers; it was about brothers finding a common mission toward the salvation of everyone they might have power over and therefore enacting the Divine will. Partnership is always more powerful than competition when we try to build a world where all of us can live in safety and security.