In recent weeks, Hamas leaders in Gaza prevented a group of 12-15 year-olds from taking a trip into Israel and into areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The reasoning for canceling the journey was to “protect the culture of our children and our people,” meaning that Hamas did not want these children of Gaza to take part in discussions that might give them a more positive view of Israel. Each child had lost one parent in Operation Protective Edge during the summer. Yoel Marshak from the Kibbutz Movement, who led the initiative, noted, “These children will one day be the leaders of Gaza and they would have remembered this trip and known that we can live in peace, side by side. The trip was meant to be a big hug for them.”
When I was exploring the story of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers in Genesis Chapters 44 and 45, I realized that two words were at the center of the narrative. One was VAYIGASH, which means “and he approached.” In that case, it was Joseph’s brother Judah, who recounted all that he and his brothers had done to follow the requests of this Egyptian leader that they didn’t know was actually their long-lost brother. Once Judah got close to his brother, both in physical proximity and on a deeper emotional level, he made it possible for Joseph to see that it would be both safe and wise to restore his ties to his family. Closeness did not mean perfection, but it did lead to a recognition of bonds of kinship that would not again be broken.
The second word that was central to this passage was “L’HITAPEIK,” “to restrain himself.” The verse that begins chapter 45 declared that “Joseph was no longer able to restrain himself.” He had been trying to hold back his conflicted feelings, which included the need he saw to test his brothers to see if they had changed, as well as his desire to re-enter his family circle. It was only when he allowed his emotions to flow more freely that Joseph was able to complete the process of reconciliation and reunion.
Joseph can be a role model for us as members of a community and an exemplar for anyone who would seek to build peace among people. Peace cannot be made from a great emotional distance. Approaching each other, getting close in some way, is what can build and sustain bridges that can link us together in common cause and shared goals and hopes. There are times when we may restrain ourselves because we are afraid to reveal too much about ourselves due to a fear of vulnerability. Those fears can melt away when family and community members reach out to us in a way that engenders honesty, mutual respect and trust.
Like his father and uncle before him, Joseph embraced his brothers after years of separation. May all that we do bring us together as a warm, caring and peaceful community!