They enter in fear, shoulders hunched, throats tight. They are about to meet, next to Pharaoh, the most powerful man in Egypt. This is the man-god who decides if they eat or not. With a snap he can imprison them or have them all killed. This is no ordinary hope-laced pitch. This is the make or break-er. This is survival.
This week’s Torah episode includes one of the most moving scenes in the whole five books. Driven by drought, Joseph’s brothers go to the palace chancellor to barter for grain. They don’t know he is their brother. The one they sold into slavery. It is a scene rich in themes of forgiveness, fate, reconciliation and power. The reveal, that moment of transition from ignorance to knowledge is extraordinary. The brothers must see anew what is right in front of them. Instead of a stranger, the man in front of them is part of themselves.
I imagine they argued about how to approach the meeting. I’m guessing they decided in advance who would do the talking. Did he practice? Did they think about their entrance? Did they carry talismans and wear their lucky knickers? Did they try to look more Egyptian to make their case more appealing?
And physically, what kind of shape were they in as a result? I doubt they slept the night before. The oldest brother, Reuven, is silent. Maybe he lost his voice? Who had back pain, the jitters, a toothache, a migraine or just felt dizzy? Our feelings affect our bodies. That’s about our psyche. That’s the mind-body connection.
And then Joseph cries. No more games; no more tests. The dam simply breaks. His feelings flood. He releases what he has been holding all these years. The anger, the hurt, the loss of his childhood, the missing of home, the nausea of rejection, the bruise of love denied, his own jealousy of their being together and his still being apart and perhaps even some regret. He sheds it all. “It is I, your brother Joseph.”
And then Joseph hugs them.
Scientists have found no evidence of a soul, even at the nano-meter level. Nor can they really explain conscious thought or feelings. They are looking in the wrong place. It’s between. It’s in the psychosomatic space between body and mind, between body and body, between holding and freeing.
The Ishbitzer Rabbi says that there are hints of redemption in this story. He taught that the time it takes for Yehuda to see Joseph in front of him, rather than an Egyptian god, is the time it takes for redemption to come. It seems to be so. In the moment of Joseph’s revelation to the moment of recognition to the moment of the embrace is a God space, an absolute potential, an opening to the beyond. Something shifts and there is a dis/reassembling inside. Suddenly, we see what we have been carrying around in our stomachs, our hearts, our backs, our jaws, and then we can let it go. We can move from weighted to lifted, too. You can’t measure the weight of anger leaving the soul, but it is a recipe for healing. Ask Joseph and his brothers.