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    Is my father alive? – Vayyiggash

    At last the riddle unfolds.

    Joseph’s brothers have been immensely puzzled by the way they were treated by the Egyptian Minister of Food, in whom they did not recognise their own long-lost brother Joseph.

    Now, in this week’s Torah portion, Joseph reveals himself: “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” (Gen.45:3).

    The brothers are struck dumb, though Rashi explains, “They were not able to answer him because they were overwhelmed with shame”.

    What is not easy to work out is why Joseph asks after his father.

    From the emotional point of view, he has wondered for years about the fate of the father he loves. But surely he has deduced that Jacob was indeed alive, since one of the brothers, Judah, had already said quite clearly, Yesh lanu av zaken – “We have an aged father” (Gen. 44:20). And Joseph had actually asked at that earlier stage, “How is the aged father of whom you have spoken?” (Gen. 43:27).

    The explanation is implicit in what Rashi says. Joseph was not unaware that Jacob was alive, though by now the patriarch must be showing signs of old age, but he wants to know how the father has coped throughout all these years with the burden of callous children and the sudden disappearance of a loved young son.

    Basically, Joseph is uttering a rebuke. What he is saying is, “Have you no shame about what you did to our father? I myself have got through the hard years, but did you ever think of what your behaviour must have done to our father?”

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