Vayigash II - RETRIBUTION
TWENTY-TWO YEARS had elapsed since the sons of Jacob had sold their brother as a slave to a caravan of Midianites--twenty-two long years during which time all had married, begotten children and become engrossed in the problems of their own respective families. No longer was their conscience oppressed by the wrong they bad done to Joseph. Suddenly and unexpectedly they heard in their own tongue, "I am Joseph, your brother whom you have sold unto Egypt" (Gen. 45:4).
What a day of judgment! What a dramatic outcome! Mind you, Joseph did not rebuke or threaten his brothers. He simply said, "I am Joseph," and these words lashed them like whips ] and scorpions; they embarrassed and humiliated them.
It is a dreadful experience to have to face one whom you have wronged. It is even more terrible when you have to face him when he is at the peak of his power, and instead of excoriating and punishing you, he says quietly, "I am Joseph! You see, you thought you were finished with me, but here I am! Here you see me not as a helpless seventeen-year-old at the bottom of a pit, but as a powerful viceroy of a great land."
This aspect of the story of Joseph is a dramatic and moving example of the law of retribution. What men sow they reap. Though the harvest is delayed, the wrong we do ultimately catches up with us. And when it finally overtakes us, it stares us in the face and declares in accents we know so well, "I am Joseph whom you have sold."
Generally, we think of baalei musar , of moralists, as people who scold and lecture us in harsh terms. Here is another sort of musar , when it is teyasrech raotech, when the evil we do rises before us and says, "I am Joseph. Here I am! Remember me?"
At one of the National Conventions of the Repulican Party, the balance of power lay with delegates of a certain state. That night the delegates met in caucus. The name of a prominent candidate was presented and favorably received. But there was a Judge in that delegation who knew the candidate in his college days. When asked for his opinion, the Judge related one incident of college life which showed that the man under consideration was lacking in moral principles. This one story was sufficient to change the minds of the delegates of that state. The next day, the vote was given to his opponent who was nominated and elected.
When that fellow enjoyed his escapade in college, he did not realize that many years later this would be the only reason for his missing the greatest prize in the world--the American Presidency. Little did he know then that the stern presence of an ancient sin would block his path to the exalted office by saying, "I am Joseph whom you have sold. That place of responsibility and honor is not for you."
In our own day we are witnessing a similar situation with reference to the role of America and the peace of the world. The blunders and mistakes we have made in foreign policy are now coming home to roost. Vietnam is saying ani Yoseph, and Angola is crying "I am Joseph," and the entire United Nations is embarrassed and humiliated because of the misdeeds and brutality of the Soviet Block and the so called Third-World and Arab nations.
The mere thought of the Watergate scandal and what it did to former President Nixon and his closest friends is one great shout of "I am Joseph whom you have sold."
It is related that Queen Victoria once asked Prime Minister Disraeli, "Mr. Disraeli, what is your real religion? You were born a Jew and you forsook your great people Now you are a member of the Church of England, but no one believes that you are a Christian at heart. Please tell me, who are you and what are you?" To which Disraeli is said to have replied, "Your Majesty, I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New."
Ah, how many blank pages there are amongst us--men and women who forsake their Judaism only to have it rise and cry in their faces, "I am Joseph whom you have sold! You are the blank page in the book of your people. You are the dried and shriveled leaves in the garden of Israel!"
Retribution can be a dreadful experience, indeed! Let us avoid it at all costs.