Light from the Sidra

Vayechi ('And he lived')

Torah: Genesis 47:28-50:26. Haftarah: 1 Kings. 2:1-12.

Please note that unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from Tanach (The Artscroll™ Series/Stone Edition, April 2013. Published and Distributed by Mesorah Publications, Ltd, 4401 Second Avenue / Brooklyn, New York 11232)

‘Surely the wrath of man shall praise you. . .’

‘Revenge’, the saying goes, ‘is a dish best served cold.’ The suggestion is that vengeance is more satisfactory when executed as a considered response, or when unexpected or long feared.

Joseph’s father was dead and his brothers were now at the mercy of the second most powerful man in the ancient world. ‘Perhaps Joseph will nurse hatred against us and then he will surely repay us all the evil we did him’ (Genesis 50:15).

What delicious, ice-cold morsel had Joseph been preparing for the brothers who had hated him and sold him into slavery all those years ago? Imprisonment? Slavery? Flogging? Hanging? Throwing them to the Nile crocodiles?

The brothers sent Joseph a message from their father to the effect that he should forgive them and then flung themselves at his feet, telling him they were prepared to be his slaves. They were completely unprepared for the warmth of Joseph’s response: ‘Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good: in order to accomplish — it is as clear as this day — that a vast people be kept alive. So now, fear not — I will sustain you and your young ones.’ (Genesis 50:20-21).

The God who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth is in total control of his creation. He can make good come from evil intentions of evil men: ‘For the rage of man will acknowledge You; You will restrain the remnant of anger (Psalm 76:11). Although the precise meaning of the Hebrew of Psalm 76:11 is uncertain, the King James Version translation – ‘Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain’ – seems to be a perfect commentary on the situation that existed in the history of Joseph and his brothers. The thoughts and actions of Joseph’s siblings were evil and they could offer no excuse for their wicked actions toward their kid brother. Joseph’s dreams, the animosity they stirred in the hearts of his older brothers, their selling of him into slavery, the false accusation by Potiphar’s wife, the two dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, the butler’s ingratitude until Pharaoh’s dreams tugged at his memory and awoke his conscience – God was in control of all the evil, weaving the events together into his master plan to cause the wrath of man to bring praise to him and salvation to the world.

When the Jewish sages formulated their theory of two Messiahs to account for the twin strands of messianic prophecy in the Tanakh, little did they know that God meant their attempt to write Jesus out of the picture for good. The theory of Messiah ben Joseph has served to highlight so many details in the life of Joseph that parallel the life of Jesus.

The Gospel according to John (1:12) says Jesus came to his own people – the Jewish people – but his own people did not receive him. Instead, he was despised and rejected, and handed over to the Romans by the leaders of his own people. Yet his death on a tree became the means by which the world would be saved. Jesus, instead of cursing his people, prayed for their forgiveness even while he was being nailed to the tree (Gospel of Luke 23:34). Although he was rejected by his own people, in the Gospel of Matthew 23:39, Jesus foretold a day when Jerusalem would welcome him with the words, ‘Baruch haba b’shem Adonai!’ (Blessed is he who comes in the name of HaShem), recognising him as their brother and Saviour.

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