This is my first Machshavot for three weeks.
Two weeks ago, it was the Shwekey concerts that got in the way. Last week I was in Israel for my nieces wedding. However, the message I want to give today connects those two events to this weeks Parsha in an important way.
The Shwekey tour went from London to Birmingham to Leeds to Manchester, reaching close to 4000 people. Over 2000 in the four concerts and then many many others in schools, communities and even hospitals. It was amazing to see how the power of music, Jewish music lifted so many people from many different backgrounds. I have never been more proud of the Mizrachi team and the ideology we represent.
There were so many highlights. The incredible ruach in London fuelled by hundreds of children and teenagers, the community spirit in Birmingham where students and community celebrated together, seeing the whole community on their feet in Leeds and seeing Jews from across the Orthodox spectrum celebrating together in Manchester. The whole tour united the community around music, Torah and Israel.
And then, during the Miracle Tour, celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the UN Declaration (16th Kislev), came the momentous news that Donald Trump and America, for the first time in 70 years has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Of course, the world and the UN is furious that America dared do something that they disagreed with but as Barry Davies once famously said ‘Frankly, who cares!’
The second event for me, was even more special. The wedding of my eldest niece. Again to see the joy and simcha for the young couple and the coming together of Jews from all across the world, different ages, some religious, some not, all uniting to bring joy to the Chatan and Kallah. Again, uniting in music, prayer and song.
And then, this week we come to the conclusion of a story that is universally known and loved.
‘Way, way back many centuries ago – not long after the bible began’. So begins that epic work of Andrew Lloyd Webber – Joseph and his amazing technicolour dream coat. Apart from the fact for those of you that have seen the show, that Pharaoh probably was not an Elvis impersonator – the play stuck remarkably to the story documented in this and the previous two weeks Sidrot.
Vayigash deals with the final confrontation between Yosef and his brothers before Yosef reveals his true identity to his brethren. If I may quote ‘Can’t you recognize my face, is it hard to see that Joseph whom you thought was dead – your brother is me!’ This is loosely based on 45:3 – with one major omission. In Lloyd Webber’s version, Joseph tells the brothers it is him – and that is all. In Hashem’s version – which has sold far more copies, the pasuk reads – ‘Ani Yosef – ha od avi chai’, ‘I am Yosef – is my father still alive?’ Is my father still alive – those are the extra words.
It makes sense why Lloyd Webber missed it out – because it makes no sense. Yosef KNOWS his father is alive as he has been told countless times by the brothers during their conversations, why does he need to ask? There are many answers; one of them comes from Rav Sorotzkin – a Rav from pre-war Europe and later the modern state of Israel. He gives what I believe to be a beautiful understanding of the verse.
What had occurred up to this point? The brothers had not come to see Yosef but Tzafnat Parneach – the viceroy of Egypt, second to Pharaoh himself. The brothers could well have been saying things to the viceroy to score political points – to evoke sympathy in their cause. People are prone to saying things in a political arena that may not be exactly accurate. So Yosef says ‘Ani Yosef’, I am Joseph, talk to me as brothers, as family not as servants grovelling to a viceroy, tell me truly now, is dad really still alive?
Because family is different, family should be different. There used to be a wonderful billboard in New York. One of the largest banks Chase Manhattan had launched a new ad campaign. It read ‘You’ve got a friend in Chase Manhattan’. A few weeks later, an Israeli bank launched its own campaign in the predominately Jewish and Israel parts of new York. It read ‘You may have a friend at Chase Manhattan but at Bank Leumi we are mishpacha’.
We are family, one diverse family but a family nevertheless, which brings with it special privileges as well as a fair share of tzorus. I don’t think we quite realise the beauty of the wider Jewish family, we constantly read of the divisions in our community, I think we need to be reminded of the positive side that despite everything, we are in fact – family.
Over the last two weeks with Shwekey and the wedding – I am been reminded of the power and beauty of the Jewish family. However, there are forces out there that seek to divide, to endanger and to weaken our people – some from outside and some from within. We must steel ourselves to remain strong and committed to true Jewish Unity, unifying around the Torah and around the State of Israel and the people of Israel.
It is hard to conceive of a world in which the Jewish family will live in peace both with itself and with the world. However, Vayigash – the story of a family ripped apart by jealousy that finally is reconciled, gives us eternal hope. We can only hope and pray that the powerful message of familial love that united our people all those years ago can heal the wounds that we are suffering at the moment as a people both internally and externally. We must dream for that future – because at the moment, to quote one last time ‘Any dream will do’.
Rabbi Andrew Shaw