All of the people involved in the human drama described for us in this
week’s Torah reading are haunted by their past actions, behavior and
attitudes. Pharaoh is disturbed by his dreams of an empire where the strong
overwhelm the weak and suddenly this past dream turns into a nightmare of
the weak devouring the strong. Pharaoh’s butler thought that he had placed
his past indiscretions behind him and could safely forget everything and
everyone associated with his time in prison.
He is now forced to recall the young Jewish Yosef and once again bring back
the entire sordid story to the attention of Pharaoh. Yosef rises to power
and position and attempts to build a new life for himself far away from his
homeland and his family.
And, lo and behold, there now appear before him his ten brothers with whom
he disagreed vehemently years ago and were the agents in his being sold as a
slave to Egyptian aristocracy. Suddenly his heavenly inspired dreams of long
ago and the bitterness of his relationship with his ten brothers descend
upon him once more. The brothers do not realize that they are standing
before their brother Yosef. But they remember remorsefully the feud with him
and their less than charitable behavior towards him and see their current
danger in Egypt as somehow being Divine retribution for their callousness
and lack of compassion towards a brother.
And back in the Land of Israel, the old father Yaakov is inconsolable over
the disappearance of Yosef for he remains convinced that the old dreams of
Yosef were true prophecy and thus somehow must yet remain valid and will be
The past never disappears, not in personal life nor in national and
international affairs. All attempts to “move on” so to speak are always
hampered by the baggage of the past that we are always forced to carry with
us. Our generation of Jews is still haunted by the Holocaust.
The nations of Europe are still possessed of their ancient and almost inbred
disdain and hatred of Jews and Judaism. They cannot expunge that demon from
their very being. The Left is still haunted by the false vision and
unattainable economic and social theories of nineteenth century Marxism with
all of its malevolent byproducts. The past compresses upon our world and
gives us little room for serenity and comfort. But there is a positive past
that also exists in the Jewish world - the past of Sinai and Jerusalem, of
Torah and chosiness, of thousands of years of traditional Jewish life and
unwavering moral values.
That past is also slowly returning to many Jews who had forgotten about it
or who never really knew much about it. The past is therefore a mighty
weapon in shaping our present and certainly our future. It is the past that
saves Yosef and his brothers and restores Yaakov to be the father of the
nation of Israel. The past is not always pleasant to recall. But it is
always necessary and instructive. As we dream on of a glorious future we
must remember that our past always accompanies us on life’s journey.
Rabbi Berel Wein