Torah
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Parshat Vayegash: Genesis 44:18-47:27; Ezekiel 37:15-28.

In this week’s portion, we have a big reveal.

Joseph, moved by his brother Judah’s desire to serve as Joseph’s slave in place of Benjamin, orders his Egyptian entourage out of the room and tells his brothers who he really is.

Rabbi Dan Horwitz
Rabbi Dan Horwitz

They are speechless until he assures them he is not angry with them — rather, his being sold into slavery was part of a Divine plan that allowed him to be in a position to later save everyone from certain starvation.

Joseph’s first question to his brothers upon the reveal is, “Is my father still well?”

This question, frankly, poses quite a few challenges.

Joseph is the most powerful person in all of Egypt after Pharaoh. He has chariots, food aplenty and servants. By the time his brothers come to see him, Joseph has been in his position as Pharaoh’s No. 2 for about nine years and hasn’t seen his father in more than 20 years.

If Joseph really cared about his father Jacob’s well-being, why didn’t he go home to visit once he attained such stature?

Why didn’t he send messengers to let his father know that he was alive and well?

Perhaps Joseph chose not to contact Jacob in order to cause his father pain — the result of continued resentment — as it was his father’s favoritism (and Joseph’s accompanying ego) that resulted in his brothers despising him and selling him into slavery.

The Torah states in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance and shall not bear any grudge against the member of your people.”

As Jews, are we really meant to never bear a grudge? Is there really no situation in which continued resentment is justified?

We learn in the Talmud that the prohibition against bearing grudges applies solely to monetary matters (Babylonian Talmud Yoma 23a).

However, despite the lack of a more general prohibition against grudge holding, we should strive to reconcile with and forgive those who we feel have wronged us. The result of Joseph’s actions, or lack thereof, is that he spends significantly less time with his father (and family) than he otherwise could have.

Life is simply too short to punish those we love for their misdeeds by succumbing to persistent feelings of resentment.

This Shabbat, recognize that while it is human nature to bear a grudge, doing so comes with significant tradeoffs. Acknowledge that the time we have in this world is far too precious and short to consume ourselves with resentment. Strive to forgive. 

This commentary originally appeared in the Jewish News on Dec. 5, 2013. Rabbi Horwitz is now head of the Alper JCC in Miami, Fla.