Parshat Vayigash: Solving the Jewish identity crisis

Joseph was not recognized by his brother, and this has been a matter of discussion among our sages. In a deeper level, it is not easy to recognize oneself in something one has in common with others. In other words, one has to see himself in others as part of a common bond, root or essence. It is not about physical appearance, but something that encompasses an entire approach to life as a result of an identity, of who we truly are.

In the previous portions of the Torah we learned some of the differences between Joseph and his brothers, and their tragic consequences due to the lack of a minimum common ground. We see the projections of those consequences for the remaining of the history of the Jewish people until today.

We don’t seem to have learned since the times of Joseph and his brothers who is him, who are Judah, Levi, Shimon, Reuben and the other remaining seven. Most of us know that Judah represents the kinship, Levi the priesthood, and Joseph the birthright; and incidentally, based on Jacob’s blessings to his sons and Moshe’s blessings to the tribes, that the rest represent diverse creative positive potentials related to commerce, Torah scholarship, war, agriculture, science, justice, and other expressions of human consciousness.

All these are creative potentials and expressions whose diversity does not imply conflict or opposition to each other, but traits and qualities that exist to complement each other. We just need to find the common root that binds them together, and that is the goodness the God of Israel wants it to be their cause and effect. Likewise we have to take a look into our consciousness and all our individual traits, trends and qualities, in order to know what do they have in common and if they share the same root.

Thus we realize from what we are made of, and the purpose and destiny we came to fulfill in this world. We must learn from the differences what is good about them, for goodness is what we want to embrace as our essence and true identity. In this sense, Joseph became the paradigm for his brothers as what characterizes the legacy of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.

This paradigm is living in the ways and attributes of love as the root of the Jewish identity, for love is our common bond with God. We remind ourselves about this when we recite twice every day the blessings surrounding the dictum “Understand, Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is One”, for (we say in the morning) God chose us as His people with love and (we say in the evening) He loves His people, Israel.

This love in not just our common bond with God, it is our essence and purpose in life to connect and harmonize the multidimensional creative potentials and expressions He has planted in human consciousness, in order to make goodness prevail in the world. We learn from Joseph and his brothers that their differences were never meant to separate them or to be against each other, but to unite them under the goodness of love’s ways and attributes and fulfill their common destiny.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Zefat.
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