With this week’s parsha we see the conclusion to the Yoseif story as not only the brothers are reunited with Yoseif but subsequently Yaakov and the rest of the family. 70 individuals come down to Egypt and for the first time in history, we see a Jewish people entering a new land not their own. And hidden in the text is a valuable instruction regarding how an outsider should act when their ways may not be appreciated by those around them.
With Binyamin held captive, the 10 brothers are at a stand off with Yoseif the now vice Pharaoh of Egypt. Yehuda pleads for the release of his brother and with that insistence, Yoseif reveals himself. Immediately he tells them that the 2 years of famine will continue for another 5 and recommends they bring Yaakov and the rest of the family to Egypt where they will have food and live well.
The brothers return home to their father telling him everything of Yoseif. Needless to say he is in total disbelief. They and rest of the 70 person family embark back to Egypt where Yaakov and Yoseif have a tearful reunion. It is at this point that they all must meet Pharaoh.
You do what for a living?
Just before meeting Pharaoh, Yoseif gives his brothers an odd instruction.
And if it comes to pass that Pharaoh calls you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ You shall say, ‘Your servants have been owners of livestock from our youth until now, both we and our ancestors,’ so that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, because all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.” Bereishis 46:34
Why would shepherds be abhorrent in the land of Egypt? In ancient Egypt, sheep were considered holy and were worshipped regularly. So the fact that the family business was to herd, whip, shave, and slaughter their deity might not come off well. And it’s from this instruction we learn an important lesson.
Being upfront from the get go.
We all have parts of our personality, our past, or our family we’re not proud of. Or we may be proud of them, but know they still will not go over well. Many of us would rather keep quiet about some of these qualities to avoid that uncomfortable conversation. But what the Torah is saying is that we need to be up front about these things. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of your identity.
I have a friend who works part time at a car wash. He suffers from anxiety and for treatment he smokes pot and has a prescription for it. On his first day at a new location he told his new manager that at break time he needed to smoke a bowl. His manager couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He said he had to go tell the owner immediately. Luckily, the owner was fine with it and my friend is one of the best workers at that car wash. Now I’m not endorsing pot use, especially at work, and I’m certainly not saying it is kosher, but I have to admire my friend’s courage and strength of character. He said, “Look, this is what I am, this is what I need to function, I’m telling you up front. Do what you need to do.”
When we are up front about ourselves, it establishes a trust and gives those we are telling a proper mindset to deal. You’d be surprised how people will “make things work” when they are approached in such a way. Can you imagine if my friend had tried to hide his condition? Either we would have had an anxiety attack in the middle of driving some customer’s BMW or he might have been caught smoking at work which certainly would have lead to being fired.
The right time is the right time.
Granted, tact and timing are involved when revealing such things. If you look above, Yoseif says “And if it comes to pass that Pharaoh calls you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?'” Don’t start off your first date talking about your problems with your mother or that you might still sleep with a stuffed animal or something. And it’s probably not a good idea to be “in your face about it” either. But when the opportunity presents itself, either when there’s a direct question, a situational conflict, or there is a feeling of intimacy, that’s the time to be honest.
And in the case of Yoseif, Pharaoh accommodated them. They were awarded the land of Goshen, a lush and fertile region that was considered one of the best areas in the land. Now I won’t guarantee such fortuitous consequences for all confessions. But at least you will be real with yourself and your identity. To live otherwise is a fractured existence.