The Boy Disappears

Joseph's brothers returned to their meal in grim silence. What had they done? Had they gone crazy? They looked at each other furtively, and noticed that none of them was eating anything. They had lost their appetites; their consciences were troubling them . . .

"Why are we sitting here doing nothing?" one of them suddenly burst forth. "Let us chase after those Ishmaelites and get our brother back!"

As one man they rose and hurried out, the fastest runner among them had to turn back, as they could see no trace of the Ishmaelite caravan, nor had they any idea in which direction to look. Joseph, their brother, had disappeared as completely as if the earth had swallowed him up.

Meanwhile Reuben, who had gone home to take care of his father Jacob, returned, not knowing that his brothers had sold Joseph. "Now is my chance to free Joseph from the pit and take him home," he said to himself. "My brothers are not so bad; I am sure they will realize that they don't really want to harm Joseph, and they'll be glad I saved him." But imagine his horror when he reached the pit, called Joseph's name and got no answer. Had a snake killed poor Joseph, he thought with a shudder? Quickly Reuben let himself down into the pit, and was sadly convinced that Joseph was not there. With great difficulty he managed to climb out of the deep pit and hurried off in search of his brothers.

As soon as Reuben came within calling distance of them, he called out frantically: "Where is Joseph? What have you done with him?" As he came nearer, Reuben saw that his brothers had been crying, and they all looked very depressed.

"It was all Judah's fault," they cried out together. "He was the one who suggested we should sell Joseph!"

"But I meant to save him! It was you who wanted to kill him!"

"No, it isn't so. If you said: 'Let him go,' we would have listened to you. It's all your fault!" Thus it went, back and forth.

"That's enough quarreling," interrupted Reuben. "Don't you see what terrible things come from quarrels between brothers? Let us make up our minds from now on never to quarrel amongst ourselves any more, and let us all swear that, as long as we live, we shall not cease in our search for our brother Joseph, until we find him and set him free. Meanwhile, we must keep the secret of our shameful deed from our dear Father. For, heartbroken as he surely will be at the loss of his beloved son Joseph, he will at least be spared the shocking thought that we, his sons, Joseph's own brothers, sold him into captivity."

All Joseph's brothers took the solemn oath suggested by Reuben, vowing that each would be ready to give his life, if only Joseph would be found.

And G‑d said: Jacob would never have willingly gone to Egypt. He would have had to be dragged there by force, in iron chains, so that My prophecy, which I made to Abraham, could be fulfilled. For I had told him that his children would be enslaved in a foreign land, but would eventually be freed from the slavery of Egypt with great riches. Therefore I, too, will not tell Jacob where his son Joseph is, but when the time will come for Jacob to go to Egypt, I will find a way of letting him know that Joseph is alive and in Egypt. He will then go gladly, and he will be welcomed with great honor and joy.

At Rachel's Tomb

"Quite a nice-looking boy, this Joseph, don't you think?" one of the Ishmaelites remarked to the leader of the caravan.

"What use is his beauty to us?" retorted the leader. "He doesn't look like a slave and no one will pay much for him. He is too refined and gentle-looking. We'll do well to get rid of him and trust to make our profit on the spices we are carrying."

"This boy certainly is a lucky one. He is riding among the spices like a little prince. That is surely his good fortune, for he'd hardly be as comfortable riding among the barrels of kerosene and tar which we usually carry."

As soon as they met another caravan of camels, ridden by some Midianites, the Ishmaelites were glad to sell Joseph to them at a "bargain-price."

When poor Joseph saw the mean, cruel faces of his new "masters," he began to plead with them to take him home to his father Jacob, who, he said, would gladly pay them his weight in gold.

"And why should we believe you? If you have such a rich father, how is it that your brothers were willing to sell you for a mere twenty pieces of silver? Think up some more funny stories," they sneered at him.

Joseph broke down, shaking with sobs. But, instead of arousing any pity in the leader of the caravan, it only seemed to enrage him. The cruel Midianite struck at him with his whip, until Joseph had to cry out, writhing in pain. At the same time he threw Joseph off the mule on which he had been placed, and made him go along on foot.

As Joseph dragged himself along, trying to keep pace with the caravan of camels and mules, he suddenly recognized that they were turning into the road to Ephrath. His heart began to beat faster as he thought that they would pass the place where his mother Rachel was buried. Soon he saw his mother's tomb from the distance. Ignoring his weariness and footsoreness, he rushed forward and flung himself down on the earth near her grave.

"Mother! Dearest Mother!" Joseph called out in heartrending tones. "Have pity upon your unfortunate son! See what these wild men are doing to me, so far away from my dear father. Please pray to G‑d for me. I want to go home to my father, please, please, Mother!" Joseph sobbed and sobbed, until he had no more strength left . . .

Suddenly, Joseph lifted his tear-stained face and listened. His mother's voice came clearly to him from her grave:

"My soul weeps with you, dear son. But do not despair, for it is G‑d's will that you go through difficult experiences now, so that you will thereby learn to feel for those who suffer poverty, and those who are unfortunate and persecuted. My son, always remember who your father is, and what sort of a home you come from. Always be a faithful Jew. Turn away from evil and do good always, under all circumstances. Then the Almighty and merciful G‑d will have pity upon you and protect you even though you be among strangers. Have faith in G‑d and He will never desert you. He will return you safely to your father and brothers in His own good time."

Joseph was a boy in despair when he threw himself on his mother's grave, but he now rose as a man. With dignity and confidence he walked back to the caravan, ready for whatever strain and suffering the future might hold for him. He faced the future steadfastly, determined always to keep in mind the high ideals taught him by his father Jacob, and mother Rachel, handed down by his grandfather Isaac and great-grandfather Abraham. With such wonderful forebears, he had every determination to follow in their guiding footsteps. Nothing would make him lose his identity, even though he lived among strangers.

The Reunion

Twenty-two years had passed since Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. For thirteen long years he had been a slave and a prisoner. But for the past nine years he was the Governor of Egypt, next only to Pharaoh himself.

Now the Governor of Egypt was busy harnessing the horses to the royal carriage. For this special occasion, he did it himself. What was the meaning of this strange and unusual activity? That is not hard to guess. Joseph was full of excitement, for the time had finally arrived when he would be seeing his beloved father Jacob again, after so many years.

Joseph looked so handsome and regal as he rode forth, accompanied by princely courtiers, to meet his father Jacob. When Joseph saw his father approaching, he could not contain his impatience, but sprang down from his carriage and ran forward, flinging himself upon the neck of his aged father, embracing him and kissing him.

Jacob, though, seemed unmoved by Joseph's emotional act. He remained seated, with his eyes closed and his lips moving, as if in prayer. What was the matter? Had his father lost his love for his favorite son Joseph? Did his father now consider him a stranger that he did not return his affectionate greeting and embraces?

"Oh father, dear father! I am the same son you knew and loved twenty two years ago! I have not changed in my love for you or my love for my faith and people. Even though I have lived among evil people I have not allowed myself to be influenced by them, but have remained true to you and everything you taught me, father!"

Then Joseph heard Jacob utter the words: "Hear O Israel, G‑d our G‑d, G‑d is One," and he realized that his father had been in the middle of saying his prayers and could not interrupt.

When Jacob finished his prayers, he embraced Joseph and held him close, kissing him tenderly. After a while, he spoke gently but feelingly: "Dear son, now I can die with a clear conscience, knowing that you are alive, and that you are living as a true Jew, as a true member of my family, as a true follower of Abraham and Isaac."

Accompanied with music and the blowing of trumpets, Jacob and all his family now made their triumphant entry into Egypt. And, ringing in Jacob's ears were the words of the Almighty:

"I will go down with you into Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again."

Yes, indeed, Jacob knew that his descent into Egypt was as a springboard, from which his children would rise to the greatest possible heights.