What is Yiddishe nachas? Is it “my son the rocket scientist” and “my daughter the neurosurgeon”? Of course, parents have every reason to be proud of their children’s achievements, in whatever field of endeavor, but are these examples of what we would traditionally refer to as Yiddishe nachas?

This week’s Torah reading tells the dramatic tale of Joseph and his brothers’ reunification. Joseph, viceroy of Egypt, finally reveals to his siblings that he is, indeed, their long-lost brother. The brothers return to Canaan and share the wonderful news with their father, Jacob.

Od Yosef chai, “Joseph still lives!” they said.1

Jacob can’t believe it. Can it really be true? He’d been mourning the loss of his beloved son, Joseph, for over 20 years … was he really still alive?

The verse continues:

And [when] they told him all of Joseph’s words, and he saw the wagons that Joseph sent to carry him [down to Egypt], the spirit of their father Jacob was revived.2

And Israel said, “It’s too much! Joseph, my son, still lives! Let me go and see him before I die.”3

Did you spot the difference between the words of the brothers and the words of Jacob? They said, “Joseph still lives,” whereas Jacob said, “Joseph, my son, still lives.”

“Od Yosef beni chai.” My son! He has remained faithful to me and my way of life, despite being in the center of government circles and Egyptian high society. It would have been small comfort to Jacob if Joseph was alive but had assimilated into Egyptian culture. How pleased and proud he was to learn that despite being so far removed from his family, Joseph had retained his identity and was raising his two sons, Ephraim and Menashe, as faithful grandchildren of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But how did Jacob actually know that Joseph had maintained his faith and Jewish identity?

Rashi4 explains that when Jacob saw the wagons which Joseph sent it was a siman–a private sign–that he still remembered the last portion of Torah he and his father had been studying before his abduction all those years ago. The Hebrew word for wagon is agalah which has the same root as eglah, a calf. They had been studying the section on eglah arufah, the story of an unsolved murder and the atonement achieved through a ceremony involving a calf. 5

Apparently, it was not enough for Jacob to discover that Joseph was still alive physically. He needed to hear that he was also alive spiritually. And when he saw that Joseph still remembered the Torah that they had studied so long ago, he was deeply gratified and joyfully declared, “Joseph, my son, still lives!” He is still my son—faithful to my values, beliefs, traditions, and way of life.

For Joseph to have been the leading political figure of a global superpower and remain faithful to the traditions of his own faith and family was no small achievement. It was a highly principled decision that must have taken tremendous courage and commitment.

It’s not often that we see Jews in high office wearing their Jewishness on their sleeves. Those who manage to achieve impressive positions, especially in government, are usually not that forthcoming about their faith. One notable recent exception that comes to mind is former senator, Joe Lieberman, who openly and proudly kept Shabbat, even on the campaign trail. Clearly, Viceroy Joseph back in Egypt was an excellent role model for Senator Joseph in Washington.

Jacob understood what Yiddishe nachas meant. So should we.