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B'resheet/Genesis 50:21 And now, do not fear: I will provide for you and your little ones.
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These words are spoken by Yosef to his brothers after their return to their home in Goshen after Ya'akov has been buried in the Machpelah cave in Hebron. The brothers were concerned, the text tells us, that now Ya'akov had died and the protection his presence afforded them has gone, Yosef will turn on them and exact some kind of revenge for their treatment of him in the past. "So they sent this message to Yosef, 'Before his death your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Yosef, "Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly." Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the G-d of your father.'" (B'resheet 50:16-17, JPS). Yosef wept when he heard their message because it showed that although he had forgiven them, they had not really believed or accepted his forgiveness so that there was still fear in their minds.
Yosef's reply starts with the word - and now - a homonym1 with - and you - a measure of both meanings could be intended; the pronoun perhaps to emphasise the verb that follows and contrast with the 'I' pronoun that accompanies the next verb, the adverb to make sure that they are listening this time: pay attention! The particle is used with second person prefix form verbs to give the sense of a negative imperative, which Hebrew does not otherwise have; is the 2mp Qal prefix form from the root , to fear. The next two words are a 1cs personal pronoun and a Pilpel prefix form of the root , to sustain, maintain, nourish. The Pilpel stem is so named because it repeats the first and third letters of the three-letter root; it is almost always used only with hollow verbs2. "Now don't you worry," Yosef replies, "I myself will sustain you; I will provide for you and your little ones. You can trust me, really." The verse goes on, "And he comforted them, speaking to their heart".Rashi comments, "words that are acceptable to the heart"; gentle and encouraging words that would be easily heard and accepted so that the brothers could be sure that Yosef really meant what he said.
Picking up on that idea, Richard Elliott Friedman makes an important point about what Yosef is doing, rather more than what he is saying: "We have seen that each act of deception since Ya'akov led to another deception that came as a recompense. Thus deception and hurts within a family can go on in a perpetual cycle. In order to bring it to an end, one member of the family who is entitled to retribution must stop the cycle and forgive instead. That is what Yosef is doing here." While Yosef still might have turned on his brothers in retaliation, he chooses not to; he chooses to end the cycle by returning more good for the old evil. By his action here, confirming not the brothers' worst fears but instead their best hopes - that the past really has been forgiven - Yosef brings to an end the pattern of deception that his father had started and that had been manifest in Yosef's own generation by the bickering and in-fighting between the twelve brothers.
A note on an altogether different line comes from Nahum Sarna, writing in the JPS Torah Commentary. Quite short, it simply says: "I will sustain you: This reassurance is puzzling since the famine is long over. Again there is a hint of deterioration in the Israelite situation." Sarna points to verse 5 - "My father made me swear, saying, 'I am about to die. Be sure to bury me in the grave which I made ready for myself in the land of Canaan.' Now, therefore, let me go up and bury my father; then I shall return" (JPS), Yosef's words to Pharaoh to obtain permission to leave Egypt in order to honour Ya'akov's funeral wishes - and the report of who was allowed to go Canaan on the burial trip in verse 8: "Joseph's household, his brothers, and his father's household; only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the region of Goshen" (JPS). With hindsight, of course, Sarna sees a gathering cloud of restrictions upon the family and descendants of Ya'akov: their wives, children and flocks (meaning, their wealth) have to be left behind as hostage against their return from the funeral. In that light, Yosef's reply to his brothers takes on a different tone. Is Yosef saying that although he is Grand Vizier and could easily turn his back on and break the connection with his brothers in Goshen, he will in fact maintain the family ties and protect them? Or is he closing ranks with the brothers and promising to use his waning power and influence for the good of the family as long as he still has it? Does Yosef see the writing on the wall and recognise that the tide of blessing and favour with their Egyptian hosts has already ebbed?
As believers, we know that the world has never shown the Kingdom of G-d any long-term favour. Although temporarily granted for ministries and initiatives that benefit society as a whole, such favour is short-lived and is soon attacked by the enemy of our souls who mobilises his forces to negate or defeat favourable public opinion. The post-modern age in which we live has allowed us a breathing space of tolerance and relativism - our beliefs and practices are tolerated because everyone is entitled to their own opinions and no-one can say that others are wrong - but even this veneer is paper-thin and will not last much longer. Yeshua warned the disciples, "If you belonged to the world, the world would have loved its own. But because you do not belong to the world - on the contrary, I have picked you out of the world - therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19, CJB). True believers throughout history have been persecuted for their faith by governments, by other religious or anti-religious groups and even, quite often, by others who call themselves Christians but either seem unable to obey Yeshua's words to "love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34, ESV), or have no real relationship with Yeshua. In the western world today, although there are notable exceptions, persecution is often hidden and not openly expressed as direct opposition to our faith. That does not mean that the clouds are not gathering; on the contrary, they are. We all need to be aware of the political, social and media maneouvering that is taking place to marginalise and restrict believers in Yeshua. As Jews, we are no strangers to persecution - significantly from the organised church - and should be in the vanguard of those who are proclaiming the truth and fighting for freedom and liberty.
We must not lose hope in the face of the gathering storm. Just as Yosef spoke words of comfort to his brothers and promised to use his influence to protect and shield them from the worst of the Egyptian animosity, so Yeshua has promised to be with those who have chosen to follow Him: "Remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20, CJB). Unlike Yosef, Yeshua's power is not waning; His influence and authority is not in decline; He is not affected by the government of the day, or in danger of losing his position "because He is L-rd of lords and King of kings, and those who are called, chosen and faithful will overcome along with Him" (Revelation 17:14, CJB). Yeshua speaks words of encouragement into our hearts, words that we can accept and know come from Him. "Be strong, all you people of the land -- says the L-RD -- and act! For I am with you -- says the L-RD of Hosts. So I promised you when you came out of Egypt, and My spirit is still in your midst. Fear not! For thus said the L-RD of Hosts: In just a little while longer I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; I will shake all the nations. And the precious things of all the nations shall come here, and I will fill this House with glory, said the L-RD of Hosts" (Haggai 2:4-7, JPS). There will be a shaking, such as the nations have never seen; there will be trials and persecution for the true followers of Yeshua. But the Spirit of the L-rd will rest upon His chosen ones and, like Stephen giving his testimony before the Sanhedrin, our faces will shine as we give Him the glory.
1 - A homonym is a word that sounds exactly like another word, so that you cannot tell the difference between them when spoken, without the context. This is true for these words today in Hebrew, but may not have been so in the days when biblical Hebrew was written; scholars suggest that the alef and ayin letters did have slight but distinctive guttural sounds which have been lost since that time.
2 - Hollow verbs are those with a vav or yod as their middle consonant.
Further Study: 2 Chronicles 20:14-17; Shemot 14:13
Application: Are you feeling beaten up, cast down and defeated by the world around you? Do you shake your head in despair and disbelief at what the world is coming to? Lift up your head and look the enemy squarely in the eye, for "greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4, NASB).
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
Comment - 01Jan10 19:11 anonymous: With division in our extended family, the connections in the application of the parsha have called me to act. I believe this is a moment to bring a healing that has alluded us for too long.
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