Emanuel Synagogue

The Power of Forgiveness- Cantor George Mordecai


I recently had the pleasure of catching up with a dear friend with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while. During the course of the conversation, he mentioned to me that a good friend had betrayed his confidence. The friend, after realising what he had done, had subsequently asked for his forgiveness. We spoke about forgiveness, reconciliation and how hard it really is to properly forgive. When a person – especially a good friend, spouse or relative – betrays our trust, it can almost destroy our lives. I have seen these wounds last for a lifetime and it is tragic.

In this week’s parsha we come to the end of the book of Bereishet. One of the last acts that unfolds is the reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers. He forgives them for selling him into slavery decades before. Joseph had already revealed himself to his brothers earlier in the story. He said to them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Gen 45:5). The process of forgiveness had already begun at that point but it wasn’t clear to the brothers that Joseph had forgiven them yet. Additionally, they feared that he might take revenge once Jacob their father died.

Joseph makes it clear this week that he forgives his brothers and in so doing, allows for the development of a tribal coalition composed of all the sons of Jacob and their families that eventually develops into the nation of Israel:

“‘Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring about the present result – the survival of many people. And so, fear not. I will sustain you and your children.’ Thus he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.” (Genesis, 50:20-21)  

Rabbi Jonathan Sachs states that Joseph does not use the word forgiveness here but makes it clear that he does not wish to take revenge on his brothers.

The Torah teaches us here that forgiveness and reconciliation is the path of kedusha, of holiness. Our story could not have continued without it. If Joseph would have acted with vengeance and used this power to destroy his brothers or enslave them, a tribal confederacy and the nation of Israel would not have evolved. Joseph’s actions led to a win/win outcome for all the players. More importantly, it was the final stage in his development and evolution from a gifted but self-centred boy to a mature, wise human being. Joseph was finally able to see the ‘bigger picture’ and use his gifts in the service of humanity and the Source of All Life.

The Joseph story and its conclusion has so much to teach us all. Will my friend be able to forgive the person who betrayed his trust? Will we be able to act like Joseph did when faced with similar challenges? The jury is out, but when we are faced with these hard challenges in life it is comforting to know that our ancient stories are like a candle in the dark lighting up a path for us where we can’t always see one. 


Shabbat Shalom,

Cantor George Mordecai


Emanuel Synagogue
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025

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Shabbat Times

Parashat Vayigash
Shabbat, December 26, 2020
11th of Tevet, 5781

Candle Lighting
Friday, December 25  7:49PM

Motzei Shabbat 8:25PM

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