Having just returned from a trip to Israel where I viewed some of the unspeakable devastation from the terror attacks on October 7 and heard from survivors and families of hostages, I cannot wrap my mind around the perspective that Israel should simply back down altogether. Those calling for a “ceasefire” are suggesting that Israel should not defend itself against acts of terror. What other country would face this type of backlash? Am I horrified at the number of civilian casualties on both sides? Yes, of course I am. It would go against every fiber of my being not to be outraged on behalf of innocent life cut short. But as much as social media would have you believe that this is a black-and-white issue with no room for gray, the relationship between Israel and Palestine has always been anything but. Action (and inaction) on both sides will always carry consequences, and that’s a lesson we learn in the Torah too.
Parshat Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, reminds us of how the changes we make can have far-reaching implications. In the parshah, Joseph’s brother Yehudah (Judah) tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from the starvation facing Israel. In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph can finally reveal his newfound position of power.
Throughout this Torah portion, we see Joseph and his brothers rework their relationships with one another. From the trickery to the embrace, from Joseph being alone in Egypt, to him being surrounded by family. How the tables have turned! The last time Joseph and his brothers were all together they were bullying him, putting him down, and keeping him away because of his arrogance. Now, he’s the one with the power in their relationship. The brothers eventually find a way to live in harmony with one another, a seemingly happy ending.
The same cannot be said of the relationship between the Israelites and Egyptians. Part of Joseph’s plan, in order to feed all the Egyptians, is to make them into serfs for Pharoah. Pharaoh now owned the land, the food, and the people, all because of Joseph’s doing. Needless to say, the Egyptians weren’t thrilled with this outcome and held Joseph singlehandedly responsible for their servitude.
Move forward to the next book of the Torah, and you’ll see that they take their revenge and enslave the Israelites. Why? Well, in this section of our Torah, we see that every behavior has an impact. Every action has a reaction. While Joesph’s brothers learn their lesson for mistreating Joseph, Joseph ends up mistreating others. Breaking a cycle of mistreatment will never be a one-sided endeavor. It will always be one of those “we turn our keys at the same time” ordeals. For now, we will work toward the day when humanity on all sides is reason enough to break the cycle.