The Power of Hope

Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the reunion of Joseph and his family. How appropriate for the name of the portion to be called Vayigash, which means, “and he came near.” After a long period of being apart from his family, Joseph was able to come near his family. Not only did Joseph reveal himself to his brothers after the long wait for his plan to succeed, but he was also reunited with his father who had given up hope of Joseph’s survival years beforehand.

After revealing himself to his brothers, he instructed them to go back and get their father and all of their possessions and move down to Egypt where he would provide for them. Once they got back home to their father, however, Jacob did not initially believe the news about Joseph:

And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. (Genesis 45:26–27)

In this translation, we read that Jacob’s heart “became numb.” However, the Hebrew is more evocative. It says that his heart “fainted.” He simply could not believe Joseph could be alive after all these years. His pessimism was based on his challenging life. Jacob was 130 years old and had lived through many difficult circumstances. When he moved down to Egypt and met Pharaoh, he explained:

The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning. (Genesis 47:9)

The outlook he expressed to Pharaoh was that his life had simply been rough. From Jacob’s perspective, he had reason to interpret his life in this manner. He had fled from his brother who wanted to kill him; he had been forced to marry a woman he did not want to and had worked far too long for a less-than-honest man to marry the woman he loved; the wife he loved was barren for many years and eventually died giving birth to her second son, and then her first son was taken from him for over two decades without any hope that he may have still been alive.

Proverbs tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). Jacob had lost hope and he wasn’t afraid to let it be known. It seemed everything he desired in life was stripped from him.

Although Joseph didn’t understand why bad things happened to him any more than Jacob did, he realized that ultimately they served a purpose if there was truly a God who ruled the universe. He had something Jacob didn’t have. He had hope.

Rock climbers are insane. But they do things that no one else will do, and everyone takes notice because of that. They aren't necessarily fearless, but they are optimistic. They have hope. Hope drives the rock climber to scale the face of an imposing mountainside, whereas others would throw their hands up without a second thought. They train for it. They live for the challenge. Rather than cringe with fear, they run to the opportunity.

When Jacob first heard the news that Joseph was alive, it didn’t seem possible. The mountain was too imposing, too impossible. But then, when he saw the evidence and realized it was true, the Torah tells us that “the spirit of their father Jacob revived.”

Many people today have lost hope. The world is full of so much death, cruelty, and sadness that it is easy to lose hope. As followers of Yeshua, we have a hope that is greater than what this world provides, but it is easy to lose sight of it. We have to find a way to recover it and share it with others. That single ounce of hope empowered Jacob enough to uproot his entire family and move to Egypt so that he could be reunited with his long-lost son. What can we do to inspire hope in others?