When my mother was young, there was no television, but there were exciting dramas at the cinema. Many were left unfinished every week, often with the heroine or hero hanging off a cliff, so that eager viewers would return the next week. Hence the term ‘cliffhanger’. And no cliffhanger could be more dramatic than Miketz.
For me, Vayigash is one of the most emotional parashot in the Torah and provides so much that is relevant to our lives today. Why did Joseph behave to his brothers as he did? We are given no insight into his thoughts in the text, and many explanations and interpretations are given by generations of commentators. Judah’s speech is hugely emotional but still does not give Joseph the answer he needs – does his father still love him, Joseph?
When he reveals himself to the brothers, he finally gives us a clue: ‘I am Joseph – is my father still alive?’ Suggesting the possible interpretation – if he is, why has he never tried to find me? Remember – he knows nothing of the story his brothers used to explain away his disappearance. For all he knows, his father abandoned him. ‘Does my father still love me?’ Joseph gets his answer very soon. For us, it might be does my Father – as in God – still love me? After all, I may not have felt close to Him for many years.
There is a very moving story, told by Rabbi Lord Sacks, z”l, of a son who left home and was more or less told by his father not to bother coming back. He travelled in many countries but very much missed his parents. Many years later, he sent a letter to this mother, explaining why he had to get away and expressing the forlorn hope that, as he would be passing very close to their farm on the train in a couple of weeks’ time, he might be allowed to visit. ‘Don’t write to me- I am travelling. If it’s OK, please just tie a white cloth to the old oak tree near the railway line. If it’s not there, I will just keep going.’ On the fateful day, he could not bear to look. He asked his neighbour, with whom he had been chatting, to look for him. The neighbour said there was a white cloth on almost every twig…. It’s never too late to ‘go home’…. Or for those at home to put out the white cloths….