Like most siblings, my sister and I have our fights. We’re seven years apart, which for us meant we were raised in very different realities because of my parents’ career situations at those different times. We were raised by the same loving parents and in the same home, but because of the age difference, and because we’re simply different people of course, we often have different versions of what happened in our family, or at least how we remember life together. One thing we’ve come to agree on is that the past is the past, and however we remember it, we can’t change it. We can only accept it and move forward.
Our parshah this week reminds us of this same idea. Parshat Vayigash, our Torah portion for this week, is the continuation of the saga between Joseph and his brothers. Judah, one of the primary perpetrators of the evil against Joseph, stands up for his brothers and requests to be imprisoned rather than Benjamin. Later, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, and his brothers tell their father Jacob that Joseph is still alive. Then the 70 members of Jacob’s people follow him down to Egypt, and the family is reunited.
What is so relatable about this is that as the brothers are turning to go back to their father, Joseph bids them adieu, saying: “Do not be quarrelsome on the way.” Joseph knows his brothers all too well, especially their family dynamics. He’s warning them that resorting to the same blame game they played after they sold him off to the Egyptians would only be replaying and rehashing the past. Instead, Joseph is urging his brothers to remember that the past is the past, and it cannot be undone.
In other words, there is nothing to be gained from fighting old fights. The best way to move forward is to connect to what is happening now and to change what you have control over. Joseph could have easily taken a kind of revenge by letting his brothers continue to fight with each other as payback for the way they treated him. Ultimately, though, Joseph knew in the grand scheme of things his family would be healthier and much better off if they let go of the past and focused on how to change themselves for the future.
While we’re all physically apart from each other, it’s easy to forget that we all have to live with each other in every sense of space. Portlanders share one city. Oregonians share one state. Humankind shares just one planet. Vayigash means “and he drew near,” and the parshah reminds us to draw near to each other and meet each other in the here and now.