Last Piece of the Puzzle
This week’s Torah portion has the finale of the conflict and intense drama between Joseph and his brothers. Judah makes an impassioned plea that Benjamin must be returned to father Jacob lest the old man die from heartbreak at the dual tragedy of losing both Joseph (in Jacob’s mind at least) and Benjamin. Let’s not forget that Joseph and Benjamin were the only children of wife, Rachel – the only woman Jacob originally wanted to marry in the first place. In Judah’s appeal he makes it clear that he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and offer himself up as a replacement for Benjamin. Joseph can no longer contain his emotions and, ordering all the bystanders out of the room, reveals his true identity to his brothers. He does so with two simple words, “Ani Yosef”, I am Joseph.
The Torah narrates that, “The brothers could not respond because they were totally aghast before him (Joseph).” One could only imagine the collective dropping of 11 jaws, the bugging out of 22 eyes, and the 11 tongues that could not make a sound the moment that Brother Joe uttered those simple words.
The family had experienced 22 years of pain, guilt and loss, not to mention all the bewildering circumstances that had recently befallen them: They could not fathom why they were being singled out by this powerful man as spies; why he inquired about the specifics and details of their family; why he insisted on seeing the lone brother, Benjamin who had remained with his father back in Canaan; how their money mysteriously kept returning back into their travel sacks; why this apparent Egyptian viceroy treated them with such love and warmth by feasting and literally getting drunk with them, but then suddenly turning around and accusing them of theft, threatening them with imprisonment.
And now, after all of these totally incongruous events that have come to a head after 22 long years since they had done that dastardly deed of selling Joseph, everything … every last detail – in the flash of a moment – came into focus and made perfect, albeit painful, sense. Every piece of the puzzle, in an instant, came together and locked into place to form one stunning picture; a still-life photo that encapsulated over two decades of painful family history.
The problem is that He knows us better than we know ourselves…
I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected.
It’s like I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events that stretched all the way back.
I felt like I could see everything that happened, and everything that is going to happen.
It was like a perfect pattern, laid out in front of me.
And that’s when I realized that we’re all part of it,
And all trapped by it.
–Inspector Finch, V for Vendetta
The Talmud uses this story as a model of what each of us will experience after we pass on at the end of our life and a similarly hidden identity is revealed to us. After “120 years” (as we say), we are also met with two words: “Ani HaShem”, I am God. With those two words, each of us will have the identical experience that Joseph’s brothers had. In those two simple words, all the things that made no sense in our lives, all the incongruities, all the pain and suffering, all the hidden messages that we failed to understand – all of it, every last detail, in a flash, will fall into place and fit together as we see the purpose and need of every event.
But that’s for another time and place. The fact is that there are times in the here and now when we have such moments. We have all experienced periods in our lives when things happen with no apparent rhyme or reason and seem to be going against our wishes and wants. We struggle to make sense of it but forge ahead even though we remain in a state of great uncertainty as to the why and wherefore of it all. But sometimes – not always, but sometimes – after a certain amount of time – many many years in most instances – we begin to appreciate the meaning and story behind what happened to us and why it did. The pieces fall into place and we come to an understanding that those years of difficulty were not only grueling, tough and hard but necessary, and created within us the person we would not have become otherwise. The events that we wished so hard at the time would not take place, in retrospect become the very building blocks of our lives and personalities. “Why me?” becomes transformed to, “I would not have had it any other way.”
This works both on a personal level and on a national level. It is what we mean when we speak of Mashiach, the Messiah and why it’s an integral part of Jewish belief. The arrival of Mashiach is a time when we finally see the ultimate destiny of the Jewish People and our role vis-à-vis Mankind. Mashiach is when we come to recognize and identify that every detail of our history was an integral part of a greater whole; that nothing was an aberration but each was a crucial piece in a global matrix necessary to reach the utopian ideal that is Tikkun Olam, a peaceful and perfect world for which all people long, strive and hope for.
And indeed, once the Mashiach comes, all identities shall be revealed and assume their true role. It will be a time when we all recognize that we are part of a system, part of a larger greater family with a shared destiny. And when that time arrives, the Jewish nation shall come close, embrace, and become one, as Joseph finally did with his brothers after those many long years of pain, conflict, anger and self-doubt.
Just as Ani Yosef began the healing process between him and his brothers, so too Ani HaShem shall do the same for the Jewish nation, as well as all the nations of the world. And in fact, with the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel, Ani HaShem has already begun.
If you ever feel like
Things you never understand
Little white shadows sparkle and glisten
Part of a system a plan…
Swim out on a sea of faces
The tide of the human races
An answer now is what I need
You’re part of the human race
All of the stars in the outer space
Part of a system, a plan