This week I participated in a book club discussion of Henna House by Nomi Eve. The novel’s main character, Adela, is set against the culture and history of Yemen in the first half of the 20th century. We discussed whether Adela directed her life by her choices or was swept along by the events of the day. The group felt Adela’s decisions were the most important factor. Even so, after some events, others follow inevitably. Just as Humpty Dumpty cannot go home again, he is shattered.
After Jacob gave Joseph that famous royal coat in Genesis, the brothers saw that Joseph had their father’s love, they hated him, and they could not speak peaceably (37:4). Was hatred an inevitable result of Jacob’s love? Joseph feels all the dramatic events which follow in his life are inevitable and ordained: his enslavement and then his rise in Egypt. So what of the powers of decision, and of now?
Fast forward to 45:8. Joseph has just revealed his identity to his brothers, following Judah’s plea to take him in place of Benjamin, in perhaps the most climactic scenes of Torah.
Verse 8 begins with the word Atah , meaning “now”, in dramatic r’vii trope.
Why dramatize this ordinary word? “Now” it all becomes clear to Joseph! I imagine him thinking “before, it thought it was you, brothers, who sent me, and I was vengeful! But now it’s all different.” How could it NOT be that the brothers sent Joseph here?! Perhaps when Joseph understands that the pathway was toward love and salvation, it must be God’s doing! Just as, 400 years later we will see God’s hand in redemption of the Exodus. Perhaps whenever light becomes snatched from the jaws of darkness, that is an essence of God. Listen to “Job” by Jacob Spike Kraus who writes of Biblical Job:
I’m in need of second chances and the answers to explain the light, ……In the darkness of my life!
Joseph is the light snatched from darkness. Just as he was pulled from the pit (twice) and Benjamin, Joseph’s younger incarnation was pulled from Rachel’s dying body. For the brothers, whose ultimate crime of selling their brother into almost certain death, has come salvation from the forgiveness in Joseph’s heart. Joseph still has his dark side: he’s enslaved the population of Egypt in selling them food (R. Arthur Waskow). Perhaps this the reason we become enslaved, requiring salvation once again.
So was it God that sent Joseph to Egypt? Nope, verse 8 at least, does not say that! Rather it is God who placed Joseph from the dungeon into the position of “Father to Pharoah”. The word “father” is emphasized in an echo of the r’vi-i used for “now”. and repeated in the next verse. Father Jacob’s actions are the ultimate cause of of all that followed in Joseph’s life. And now Joseph feels as father, but to Pharoah!
After 20 years without contacting his father, Joseph now tells his brothers to “maher“, hurry, and bring his father down to Egypt. But the trope is the gentle and bittersweet, not rushed. “Tell my father this,” says Joseph, and the message repeats all, except one part. Interestingly, the missing part is that Joseph being the “father”.
Can this incredibly dysfunctional family which has been so shattered go “home” again? In Coming Around Again Carly Simon reflects that in becoming a parent, we can go home again. She sings:
I know nothing stays the same; but if you’re willing to play the game, it’s coming around again….there’s more room in a broken heart…I believe in love, comin’ around again.
Perhaps Joseph now finds “more room” in his broken heart! In verses 14 and 15 he cries, a lot! Joseph weeps on Benjamin’s shoulder first, (the innocent full brother) and Ben reciprocates. Then Joseph weeps on the shoulders of the other brothers. “Now” there is a brand new reality. “Truly After, (acharei chen), his brothers spoke to him,” opening souls stoppered-up with hate so long ago. Time is mysterious, and a big deal. For Joseph, and for Adela, recognizing “now”moments is a way to direct the story of their life out of the rut, and achieve change, repairing shattered families.