Hard to Believe – Parshat Vayigash 5776

hard-to-believe

Growing up watching the Tanner family on TV’s Full House, can you understand why I have mixed feelings about Netflix’s upcoming reboot of the series? Fuller House, which debuts February 26, follows the same format as the original, but with the kids now in the grown-up roles raising the next generation. The idea is tantalizingly nostalgic, but the secret recipe of the late 80s/early 90s series simply can’t be replicated. Sitcoms of that era had a cozy, comforting cheesiness that current television has evolved away from. I’m not sure that today’s audiences appreciate the signature catchphrases or the easily solved storyline problems as much as we used to. What made the show magical twenty years ago was that it was all just too happy to believe.

Life rarely feels like a sitcom. While we all experience moments that feel too good to be true, most days are mixes of highs and lows. Some things work out in our favor, some things don’t. However, there are moments of ultimate joy – the ones when we have to pinch ourselves to make sure they’re real. One of these for me was shortly after finding out I was expecting our daughter. The confirmation in the doctor’s office and seeing and hearing Shiri’s heart beat for the first time felt surreal. She’s already two years old, and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the power of that moment.  

Parshat Vayigash, which we read this week, is about such a “believe it to see it” type of moment.  In fact, Joseph and his brothers have many moments of heartfelt joy.  Joseph’s brother Yehudah tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from the starvation facing Israel.  In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph is able to finally reveal his newfound position of power.  Joseph is given high praise in this parshah as a leader in Egypt, the saving grace to the people of Egypt and Israel, a loving brother, and a forgiver of past indiscretions.  

But when this news is first revealed to Jacob, it’s too much for him to believe. In chapter 45, verse 26, the brothers return from Egypt with the exciting news that their brother Joseph, whom they had presumed dead, is not only alive, but is the pharaoh’s right-hand man.  The brothers try to explain this to their father, and the text describes his reaction, saying: “His heart went numb, for he did not believe them.”  And why should he believe their fantastical story? After all, Jacob had been deceived before (and even did some deceiving himself).  Rather than take their word for it, Jacob demands to see with his own eyes if there is truth to their claims.  

Even though the miraculous events in the Torah aren’t regular occurrences in our modern lives, the emotional highs and lows we experience every day are not unlike those in our biblical narrative. That’s not exactly the case in the sitcoms of my childhood. The Tanners provided an entertaining escape because all conflict was neatly resolved in half-hour intervals. For us, the unbelievable high points we do have are made that much sweeter because they are part of a complicated, intricate tapestry of experiences.

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