Chapter 38 verses 29-35 (Vayeshev) in the book of Genesis has very deep and personal meaning to me.
Joseph is a dreamer and he shares his dreams with his father and eleven brothers. The brothers accuse him of making himself better than they, superior to them, and they despised him.
One day, Jacob sent his son Joseph to find his brothers who were herding their flocks in Shechem and to bring back to him news of his other sons.
When Joseph is seen in the distance approaching them, they plot to kill him and throw his body into a deep pit.
Reuben, seeking to save his young brother Joseph from death, shouts at his brothers not to shed blood, not to take a life, he is flesh of our flesh.
The brothers then stripped from Joseph the coat of many colors which his father, Jacob, had made specially for him and they threw him into a pit while they walked away to eat, hearing his cries for help but refusing any help.
Suddenly, they saw a caravan of Arabs on camels carrying assorted spices on the way to Egypt. Reuben is not with them at that moment but another brother, Judah, insisted that it was wrong to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery to the Arabs en route to Egypt.
Then they slaughtered one of the sheep and dipped Joseph’s coat of many colors into the blood in order to tell their father that Joseph had been devoured by a wild beast.
When Reuben returned, he saw the empty pit. Joseph was nowhere to be seen. And Reuben rent his clothes. Upon returning to their home, they showed Jacob the bloody garment and he recognized it as Joseph’s coat that he had made for him.
Jacob then rent his clothes and put sackcloth on his body and mourned for his son Joseph for, according to Rashi, twenty-two years.
A young child once asked me “why did Reuben and Jacob rent their clothes? Why didn’t they buy them?” And I had to explain that the Hebrew word “Vayikra” (rent) means tearing into shreds.
All the members of Jacob’s family, his sons, their wives and children tried to comfort their grief-stricken old father but he refused to be comforted. Instead he told them “ No, I will not be comforted. I will go down into my grave mourning for my beloved son”.
And the verse ends with the words “and his father wept for him”. He wept and mourned for Joseph for twenty-two years. Rashi explains that it was the period of time that Joseph had been away from his home.
The sad story has deep personal meaning for me. When my beloved wife died, I too declared that I would go down to my grave in mourning. Three years have passed since her death and I cannot be comforted. Love is eternal and lives beyond the grave.
The outstanding British rabbi and scholar, Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary on this chapter in the Bible, made the following remarks :
“There are laws in Judaism about the limits of grief – shiva (7 days), shloshim (thirty days) and then one year. There is no such thing as a bereavement for which grief is endless. The Talmud says that God admonishes one who weeps beyond the appointed time”.
It appears to be a lesson to me but I admit to being a slow learner. Nevertheless, it is God who sets the rules.
I need to obey Him. He is my Boss. And heaven forbid that He should fire me!