Those who have been following this blog for some time would know already that I am very attentive and sensitive to all the “coincidences”, especially when it comes to timing. That’s why the fact that this post – the final post of the Joseph series – is published just a few days before Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, seemed to me very meaningful from the moment I realized it. For a while, however, even though I tried to understand the message that such a coincidence would convey, I had not seen the connection. But then it all became very clear: we know that the Messiah comes to bring “oil of joy for mourning” – and this is what we see both in Joseph’s saga and in the dramatic story of Tisha B’Av.
What is Tisha B’Av?
In Judaism, Tisha B’Av (Hebrew: תשעה באב), “the Ninth of Av,” is an annual fast day. It is the ninth day (Tisha) of the month of Av – hence the name. Originally, the fast of Tisha B’Av commemorated the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem—both the First Temple and the Second Temple in Jerusalem were destroyed on the same date in the Hebrew calendar (about 500 years apart). The First Temple, built by King Solomon, was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. According to the Talmud the actual destruction of the Temple began on the ninth of Av, and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, also on Tisha B’Av. Over time, however, Tisha B’Av has become a Jewish day of mourning not only for these events, but also for later calamities which occurred on or around this day (you can easily find the list of these calamities online).
Why this specific day? In Torah, we read that twelve spies were sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan. Only two of them, Joshua and Caleb, brought back a positive report, while the others discouraged the people. As a result, the people of Israel cried and refused to go into the Land. God was angry with the people. He punished them: “all these men who … have not heeded My voice… shall not see the land”.
Jewish tradition adds some details to this story. When we read: “…the people wept that night,” Talmud elaborates: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: you wept needlessly that night, and I will therefore establish for you a true tragedy over which there will be weeping in future generations. That night was the night of the Ninth of Av” – Tisha B’Av.
Thus, Tisha B’Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar. Yet, Scripture talks about the fast of Tisha B’Av (“the fast of the fifth month”), eventually being transformed into a day of joy with the coming of Messiah. There is a profound Jewish belief that when the Messiah comes, everything will be repaired and all the bad things will be reversed (even a pig will become “kosher” and the Jews will be allowed to eat pork). This is a rabbinic tradition, but of course, it is based on Scripture. Look at this verse from Zechariah:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
‘The fast of the fourth month,
The fast of the fifth,
The fast of the seventh,
And the fast of the tenth,
Shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts
For the house of Judah.
Zechariah talks about the fast of Tisha B’Av (“the fast of the fifth month”) eventually being transformed into a day of joy with the coming of Messiah. Isn’t that the same joy that we see in the story of Joseph?
Joseph’s Saga – Finale
Last time, we witnessed the search. The cup had been found in Benjamin’s sack. I suppose you understand that this in itself was a test. No matter how difficult and painful it was for Benjamin, this story was not about him but about his brothers. Theoretically, ten brothers could have gone home—they were absolutely free to do that, the steward was very clear: “he with whom it is found shall be my slave, and you shall be blameless.” Moreover, they did have a good excuse—their families were starving and they really had to bring them food. So they all could have left Benjamin and gone home, and I can imagine Joseph sitting in his palace, almost biting his nails, waiting to see who would come back: only Benjamin – or all the brothers? He was greatly relieved to see them all come back: the fact that they did all return was already a good sign—the brothers had passed this test.
Yes, they all went back to Joseph – and it was the beginning of their way back to God. Scripture doesn’t tell us what was happening inside the brothers on this trip back. We just know that those who start out on this path with rent clothing arrive at its end… with rent heart. And from now on, this story becomes the story of Judah and his brothers: So Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house, and he was still there; and they fell before him on the ground.
Do you know where in the Bible we have the same expression: “Judah and his brothers”? When we open the New Testament, we read in Matthew: Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers. Judah and his brothers – this is how Scripture sees this part of the story. Why? In order to answer this question, we need to recall the story of Judah and Tamar and Judah’s repentance and confession there: we have to remember that the Judah who comes to Egypt and talks to Joseph, is not the same Judah we saw in chapter 37, in the story of Joseph’s sale. This Judah experienced the terrible tragedy of losing two sons, has gone through deep repentance and transformation in the story with Tamar – and therefore, he now has a broken and humble heart. Therefore, he is the one speaking now:
And Judah said, “What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves?”
What can we say? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? By now, the brothers had certainly come to understand that what was happening to them was between them and God. They had no way to justify themselves. The Spirit of God was at work behind this whole scene – touching their hearts and Himself leading the dialogue with them. Whilst they were not guilty of that particular crime, under Judah’s leadership, they accepted the conviction and chastisement from the One before whom they had long ago so terribly sinned. Judah continues: “God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” In Hebrew it’s not, “found out”, rather it’s just “found” – מצא – as if truly all these years they have been playing a game of hide and seek—had hidden their crime from God and finally, after all these games of hot-and-cold, God had found it! He had convicted them of their sin and pinned it on them. And even though, at first they saw themselves as innocent regarding this particular sin, as they opened their hearts to the rays of God’s light, their confession became profound and real. These words of Judah open one of the most beautiful stories of repentance – and joy that comes after that!
What happens next? When we read the Bible in English, the whole story of the brothers returning to Joseph after the Benjamin “theft”—their speech, their repentance, and then Joseph revealing his identity—seems like one uninterrupted story. Not so in Hebrew, however. The Hebrew Torah, along with chapter divisions, also has divisions into Torah portions (Parashat Shavua) – and Parashat Shavua Miketz suddenly ends in the middle of the chapter 44, to give way to a new Parasha, Vayigash. There is an invisible dotted line, a pause, signifying that something very important is about to happen. Then the next Torah portion, Vayigash, begins with the words: Then Judah came near unto him.… This move of Judah proves to be crucial: it is after his speech that Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.
The Torah says: Joseph could not restrain himself… (להתאפק) and he wept aloud… Do you remember how we witnessed Joseph weeping secretly in the inner room, and then restraining himself: he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself… (ויתאפק). Now we witness the amazing conclusion of this story when Joseph could not restrain himself… (להתאפק) . The word translated into English as restrained himself is the Hebrew word להתאפק, meaning to hold back or control oneself. The tears of love that are held back and hidden in the inner room are now fully revealed when Joseph could not restrain himself any longer. The finale of Joseph’s saga foreshadows the same joy that the prophet speaks about referring to Tisha B’Av – the joy of recognition, of things being reversed and transformed, of mercy and grace responding to repentance and tears. The joy of Messiah’s coming!
 Gen. 45:1-2
 Gen 43:30-31
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