Master of Memory V: What Was In His Heart
“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart (Johann Wolfgang von Goeth).”
How quickly things change! The man in charge of the Viceroy’s house confronts the brothers and accuses them of repaying the evil for good, and for stealing the goblet from which his master drank, the one he used to practice divination.
The shocked brothers declare, “Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die and we also, will become slaves to my Lord (Genesis 44:9).”
They must have been shocked as soon as they realized the words that had just left their mouths. This was not the first time someone in their family had said something like this: “With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live (31:32).” Their father, Jacob, had uttered these words on aware that his wife Rachel had stolen Laban’s idols. When the brothers heard their words and remembered their father’s, they must have wondered whether they were making the same impetuous declaration their father had made that led to Rachel’s premature death.
There was another part of that conversation with the one in charge of the Viceroy’s house that struck a chord in their hearts: “Divination,” was something their grandfather, Laban, claimed as an expertise, “I have learned by divination that on account of you God has blessed me (30:27).”
I have no doubt that the Master of Memory intended to trigger these memories.
We have a sense of what was in the hearts of the brothers as they turned back toward Egypt to face the Egyptian viceroy from whom Benjamin had allegedly stolen.
Their memories of what happened to Rachel because of Jacob’s declaration led them to change their “offer” to the Viceroy: “We are ready to be slaves to my Lord, both we and the one in whose hand the goblet was found (44:16).”
Did they mean it? I suspect, not! The men who had sold their brother Joseph into slavery were probably speaking to God even as they were speaking to the Viceroy. Listen to their words: “What can we say to my Lord? How can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? The Lord has uncovered the sin of your servants (Verse 16).” The brothers are acknowledging that they find themselves in this situation because of what they had done to Joseph.
I suspect that two things were going on at this point; Joseph had managed to trigger so many memories of the past that the brothers could not help but view their current situation through the eyes of the past, but, more so, the brothers had never stopped carrying their sin against Joseph somewhere deep within their hearts.
“But he replied, ‘It would be sacrilegious for me to do this. The man in whose possession the goblet was found, only he shall be my slave, and as for you, go up in peace to your father’ (44:17).” The Viceroy is telling them, after they all agreed to serve as his servants, that he only wants to keep Benjamin. Yet, there is something in his will words that triggers the ultimate confrontation at the beginning of this week’s portion: “Go up in peace to your father.” They may have carried their sin against Joseph deep in their hearts, something already indicated in some of their private conversations, but they had never considered their sin against their father who had been inconsolable for twenty-two years.
Joseph understood that they had been speaking to him all along by what they carried in their hearts, and he was now forcing them to confront what they had not carried all along; Jacob.
Just as the episode in which Jacob made his deadly offer, “With whomever you find your gods, he shall not live,” was the episode that triggered Jacob confronting Laban directly, the first hint of the “Israel” he was destined to become, so too, the brothers’ declaration, “Anyone among your servants with whom it is found shall die,” triggered Judah’s approach at the beginning of this week’s portion.
The Master of Memory had achieved his objective. The brothers would now have their “Israel” moment, and become the great men he had dreamed they would become. The “stars” that reflected the light of their father, the “sun.”
How often do our challenges trigger memories of the past, earlier experiences we need to repair? Joseph reminds us that for true Teshuva, we need to examine the memories of the past and find the experiences that are not “in our hearts,” the memories we have hidden so deep that we never have an opportunity to repair them.
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