Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26)

This past November in the weeks between the election and Thanksgiving the New York Times published an article providing strategies and questions to use to have conversations with family members who voted the other way. Though we may love each other, we don’t always know how to talk to each other. We avoid gathering with family so that we don’t have to talk about uncomfortable things, we argue, or we talk past each other.

How do we have hard conversations with people that are close to us?

I am not sure I have the answer, but every year, I am inspired by Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers as described in this week’s Torah portion. With Jacob gone, the brothers fear that Joseph will “hashev yashiv lanu et kol ha ra’ah gamalnu oto: Joseph will return to us all the bad that we did to him” (Genesis 47:15 my translation.) They send a message to Joseph saying that their father had left a message before his death that urged Joseph to forgive his brothers. They go to Joseph and fling themselves before him offering themselves to be his slaves.

In verse 21 it says, “Vayinachem otam, vayidaber el libam: Joseph comforted them and spoke to their hearts.”I love these quiet moments in between the words of the text.

There is a beautiful moment after the word libam or hearts, if you stop to hear it.  I imagine Joseph really seeing his brothers and really hearing them. I imagine him being open hearted and giving as he gently and quietly reassures them. I feel the connections made in that moment and how Joseph turns what could have been a contentious, argumentative, vengeful moment into a moment of intimacy and relationship building.

I hope that we can all learn from Joseph to see the humanity in those who believe or vote in ways that are inexplicable to us. I hope we can find forgiveness for those who we feel have wronged us. I wish for us the courage to comfort and speak to each other’s hearts even when we feel that they have done unforgivable wrongs to us.

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