Chesed v´Emet: Love and Truth – Parashat Vayigash

The reconciliation between Yosef and his brothers is one of the most eloquent scenes, not just of the Bible, but of all World literature.

Let’s review the facts.  After having children with Leah and the 2 concubines, Yaakov finally has a son with his beloved Rachel, who he obviously spoils and overprotects above his brothers.  Young Yosef begins to have dreams of greatness, which he tells to his brothers, and as such he wins their hatred.

One day Yaakov sends Yosef to look for his brothers who were delayed.  Upon seeing him, they throw him in a well and want to kill him, but in the end they decide not to spill his blood themselves and instead sell him as a slave.  They take the special coat that Yaakov had given only to him, stain it with blood, and go and tell Yaakov that Yosef was killed by a beast.

Imagine the pain of the old patriarch!

Jazal, our rabbis of blessed memory would say: “Midah keneged midah”, Yaakov had deceived his father and now his children deceive him.

Meanwhile, Yosef has various adventures filled with successes and failures, that bring him first to jail and then, thanks to his ability to interpret dreams, to become the number two of Egypt, after the Pharoah.

A tremendous drought makes the children of Yaakov go down to Egypt where they are received by Yosef, who they do not recognize. But he does recognize them. He deceives and mistreats them, even accusing the youngest, Biniamin, of thievery, wanting to put him in jail.

This is the moment when Vayigash, the parsha of the week, begins.

Yehuda, who interestingly will be the head of the tribe that will prevail in Israel, approaches and opens his mouth with a tremendous speech, in which he finally opens his heart and tells the truth, conveying all his feelings to someone he thinks is a stranger.

The biblical text reaches the climax when Yosef cannot contain himself.  He asks all the Egyptians who are present to leave and cries out in perfect hebrew: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery”. Before his brothers’ faces of surprise and fear, he approaches them, hugs them and kisses them one by one, and asks them about their father Yaakov.

This is not an ordinary reconciliation. There is a river of lies, cruelty, and power struggles behind the story.

It seems to me that there are 2 basic elements that unlock this vicious circle that doesn’t lead us to anything but more destruction and more pain.

There are 2 basic elements, not only in this masterpiece of world literature, but in every relationship among human beings.

The first element is the Truth.  Every lie has short legs.  Every half truth is a whole lie.

If one wants to create a constructive relationship, one should stop lying, stop hiding, and stop playing poker hiding aces up the sleave.  One should stop saying one thing to their face and another behind their back.

Maybe one thinks of oneself as very clever, but according to my interpretation of Torah, it will inevitably lead to failure.  One can spend their whole life hiding, escaping, and deceiving. And life fades away to the other side, while all one’s energy is squandered in fighting instead of being turned towards creative and constructive projects.

The truth of looking in the eyes and saying: I’m not playing a dirty, hidden game; I am not going behind your back; I am not making you step on a stick to do you harm.

The head on truth can be hard, but the traitorous lie is always destructive.

The second basic element that I think unlocked the relationship between Yosef and his brothers and is capable of unlocking every human relationship is Love.

I don’t say it in the illusory sense of flowers and birds. Love is a human being’s most basic sense and, at the same time, is the most direct channel to God.

When Yehuda spoke from his heart, he broke all the shields that concealed the heart of his brother Yosef, and was able to touch him, and was able to move him.

Things can be done for many reasons and human behavior may have many motivations.  Many times we act for our own interest, for convenience, for power, to be accepted or to not be rejected, out of fear or shame. But when we act for love, we only open doors, I think, helped by the very Shechina.

Chesed v´Emet, Truth and Love, are like the salt and pepper to spice up life with meaning.

Interestingly, the group of people of the Chevra Kadisha that deal with preparing and burying the dead are called Chesed v´Emet, as if there were no more truth than our own life limit; as if there were no more selfless love than that which is given to one who cannot repay it.

Yehuda addressed Yosef with Chesed and with Emet. He reached his soul and started from there, another story.

Truth and Love are the 2 pillars that we should use if we want to reconcile ourselves with life.

Do we want to?

Rabbi Darío Feiguin is a multi-faceted Rabbi, educator, liturgical cantor, musician and pastoral counselor. He currently serves as the rabbi of Congregation B’nei Israel in San Jose, Costa Rica.