Friday, December 25, 2020

Compassion Rewrites History

After many years apart, and at odds, Joseph and his brothers are reconciled. It is prompted by the elder Judah’s petitions. “For how can I go back to my father unless the boy is with me? Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father!” (Genesis 44) Judah appears to be a changed man. 

He now fears that the loss of his youngest brother Benjamin would cause his father Jacob’s death. Earlier he offered no such worry when he and his brothers sold Joseph into slavery and told their father that his beloved son was killed by wild beasts. Earlier Judah and his brothers only exhibited resentment towards Joseph and anger that their father favored him. 

Now they offer compassion. They acknowledge that Jacob shares a special bond with Benjamin, the son of his beloved wife Rachel who died in childbirth. It is this note of compassion that moves Joseph to offer forgiveness. It is their newfound understanding of the special bond one son shares with their father that causes Joseph to no longer to see the pain caused by their terrible deed but instead the good that has now transpired. 

Can good really emerge from terrible deeds? Can future successes redeem history’s errors? 

The Torah reports: “Joseph could no longer control himself…. He said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still well?” Perhaps Joseph has also rediscovered a favored place in his heart for his father. Perhaps he was once angry at his father for doting on him and pushing his brothers toward their near deadly resentment. Joseph continues: “Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45) 

It is a remarkable transformation. The brothers have changed. Joseph too is a new man. Resentment and anger have become love and affection. All are transformed by compassion and understanding. 

Years of anger, years of seething are seemingly undone in an instant, by a few well-chosen words. I do not imagine their ill feelings are forgotten. 

And yet is appears to be so. “Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” (Genesis 45) 

An act of compassion, a newfound understanding can rewrite history.

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