In this week’s Parasha, Vayeshev, we learn of Yosef being sold by his brothers and then going down to the land of Egypt, where he finds himself in Potiphar’s house, and then in jail, and then eventually becomes viceroy of Egypt.
In the meantime, Yosef’s brothers dip his coloured coat in blood and present it to their father, implying that Yosef had died. Yaakov’s response is interesting.
“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said: ‘Nay, but I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.’ And his father wept for him.”
Bereshit, Chapter 37, Verse 35
Yaakov refused to be comforted. While he went through the motions of mourning for his son, he did not actually allow himself to be comforted by his sons and daughters. This is strange, because Yaakov, as a man of faith, should have surely allowed himself to be comforted, in accordance with Jewish law. In Judaism, mourning times are limited and in the Gemara, it even says that God says to one who weeps beyond the appointed time, “You are not more compassionate than I”. So why did Yaakov refuse to be comforted and “end” the official mourning period?
The Midrash offers a very poignant answer. Yaakov refused to be comforted because he had not yet given up hope that Yosef was still alive. The pain of not knowing what happened to Yosef and not being able to bury him was so great that Yaakov did not allow himself to be comforted.
This explanation is especially relevant today with the 138 hostages still in Gaza. The pain that their families are experiencing is not limited to a space or a time. They don’t have the ability to experience a “before and after”. Just like Yaakov, they are in a constant state of suffering and cannot be comforted.
Many years later, Yaakov’s sons come to tell him that Yosef is alive. His reaction is heartbreaking;
“And they told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive,” and [they told him] that he ruled over the entire land of Egypt, and his heart changed, for he did not believe them. And they told him all of Joseph’s words that he had said to them, and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Jacob was revived. And Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.””
Bereshit, Chapter 45, Verses 26-28
Since the war has started, almost every week, people have found references in the Parasha to what Am Yisrael is currently experiencing, this week is no different. I pray that the families of the remaining hostages are reunited as soon as possible with their missing loved ones. May this Hanukah bring many miracles, specifically the return of all those held in captivity.
In the meantime, we cannot forget the excruciating pain that the families of the missing hostages are going through. Just like Yaakov could not be comforted, neither can these families. We can’t stop supporting them, echoing their plea, and praying for them.