Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still well?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dumfounded were they on account of him. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come forward to me." And when they came forward, he said, "I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt." (Genesis 45:3-4)
Imagine it, really think about this one. You think that you truly know a person; after all, you have shared so much in common: a home, parents, pets, even DNA. Years and years go by and you still see the person as you knew him. You still think the two of you share similar interests and worldviews and you have no reason to believe otherwise. Then one day it becomes clear that some of your interests and perspectives are indeed not similar at all.
In Vayigash, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and asks them to bring their father back to Egypt, and at long last, the family is reunited. The scene in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers is touching. Overcome with emotion, Joseph says to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still well?"(Genesis 45:3). His brothers are stunned and say nothing. Joseph persists, saying, "I am your brother Joseph. . . " (Genesis 45:4).
Vayigash allows us to witness the moment in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. For the reader, this account is not surprising-we know this man is Joseph. But for the sons of Jacob this is truly a surprise, for they did not realize that this man was indeed their brother. The scene climaxes with the mixed flood of emotions the brothers surely felt.
For many of us, the concept of revelation is difficult to grasp, especially when the revealer is seemingly known to us. Revelation occurs when the true identity of a person is shown to another. This can happen publicly or, as in the case of Joseph and his brothers, in private. For example, in A Torah Commentary for Our Times, we read that "Modern commentator Pinchas Peli believes that Joseph acted wisely in asking everyone to leave the court so that he and his brothers could be alone when he revealed his identity to them" (Harvey J. Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times [New York: UAHC Press, 1990], p. 112).
Revealing oneself can be frightening, even agonizing. It can be that much more so when the communication is a serious, large facet of oneself. For example, when a person discloses an addiction, that can be a difficult revelation. First, the addict must wrestle with the challenge of admitting the problem to him- or herself. Then, the person must face the difficulty of disclosing the addiction to loved ones. In a sense, the addict must admit the addiction to loved ones to allow them to know who he or she truly is.
For some, the concept of revelation brings back painful memories of a loved one admitting an addiction. Since the reality of an illness like addiction is hard for family members to understand and accept, the setting for the revelation is important. When Joseph reveals his true identity, he wisely does so in private, away from slaves and other people. For families of addicts, this can be compared to the private family counseling sessions that take place at addiction rehabilitation centers throughout the world. In these sessions, families begin to explore the true identity of the addict-the actions they have committed, the drugs they have abused, and the raw feelings and emotions within them.
The true identity of an addict is never the same as what the addict presents to the family or the outside world. Instead, the true identity has been hidden from the very people who truly desire to know the addict. This revelation is a difficult process that hits at the very core of the family structure, bringing out its most broken parts in order to repair the family unit. The hope is that one day soon, the family unit will function in a healthy and constructive manner that leads to relationships of trust, communication, and love, instead of lies, manipulation, and false identity.
When Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, he says, "I am your brother Joseph." The words "your brother" are emphasized, underscoring the importance of the family bond that connects each of them together. This family bond made it possible for Joseph to be honest with his brothers. When addiction is involved, and a family member gets to the point of revealing who he or she truly is-an addict-may we, the family members who love this person, remember the importance of the sentiment "family first." Familial love and connections have made it possible for this person to be honest with him- or herself and with us. Only with this support can a family begin the process of t'shuvah, of repentance and forgiveness.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, she-asani ben (bat) chorin . "Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has made me to be free." May each of us become free to truly know each other and ourselves so that we may one day soon reveal ourselves to those we love, including ourselves. Amen.
BY THE WAY
- Raba taught: "He who forgives . . . will himself be forgiven." (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 23a)
- A Chasidic tale teaches us, "Two came to a crossroads. One chose an uneven road, and the other a straight even road. The first encountered many obstacles but at last reached the city. The other had a much smoother journey at first, but near the end of the journey found the path blocked and had to return."
- "In my youth, when I was filled with the love of God, I thought I could convert the whole world to God, but soon I discovered that it would be quite enough to convert the people who lived in my own town. I tried for a long time, but I did not succeed. Then I realized that I was still too ambitious, and so I concentrated on the members of my family. But I couldn't change them either. Finally, I realized that I must work on myself, so that I might give true service to God. I am still working on myself." (The Rabbi of Zans, quoted in Kerry Olitzky, Recovery from Codependence: A Jewish Twelve Steps Guide [Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993], p. 84)
- God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. (The Serenity Prayer)
- [For more information on addiction, please consider visiting one of the following Web sites: www.alanon.org, www.aa.org, www.jacsweb.org]
- The Talmud teaches us that if we forgive others, then we will be forgiven. Is there a limit to what is forgivable? Are there things that we are unable to forgive?
- The Chasidic tale teaches us that sometimes the difficulty in our lives can still lead us to where we eventually want to end up. What are some difficult events that have occurred in your life, and what lessons did you learn from them? Have you been able to assist a loved one through a difficult time in life?
- The journey of self-discovery can be difficult. What some areas of growth for you? What are the areas that you feel you could work on?
- Serenity is a sense of inner peace, a true meaning of the word shaleim, or "whole." How can we achieve this feeling of completion and therefore be filled with peace, with shalom?
Joui Hessel is an associate rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC. She also serves on the CCAR Youth Committee and the CCAR Task Force on Addictions.