In Parshat Vayigash, Joseph, as vizier of Egypt, reveals himself to his brothers after twenty two years of not seeing them. He accomplishes this by saying “I am Joseph, is my father still alive?” Out of all things Joseph could have said, does he need to tell them that he is Joseph? Additionally, if he had already inquired about his father’s welfare in the last parsha why does he need to ask about his father again? Furthermore, don’t they all have the same father? The text’s seemingly superfluous nature sheds much light on Joseph’s character.
Out of all biblical personalities, Joseph is among the most dynamic. He is initially described as a na’ar, an adolescent who is pompous towards his brothers and parades around spewing dreams of his eventual rule over them. After being sold into slavery, Joseph finds himself as a slave in the house of Potiphar, being seduced by his master’s wife. The Gemara in Sota brings down that Joseph was able to refuse the advances of Potiphar’s wife because he saw his father in the window and was asked how we would like to be remembered. Only after this episode is Joseph referred to as an Ish Ivri, a Hebrew man. This is a quintessential moment in defining Joseph’s identity because he chose to associate himself with his heritage instead of his surroundings, thus finally deserving of the term ish.
When Joseph tells his brother that he is Joseph, he is aligning himself with the brother they know him to be. He is declaring himself to be Joseph, the name his mother gave him, not Zaphenath-Paneah, the name bestowed onto him by Pharoah. Netivot Shalom posits that Joseph is not inquiring about his father’s welfare rather he is making a statement about the potency of his connection with his father. The parsha is called “Vayeigash” and he drew near, which comes from the root gash meaning connection. Joseph is asserting that his connection to his father, his link in the chain to his heritage is alive within him. From this we learn the importance of firmness in our Jewish belief, and search for spiritual mentors who can guide and positively influence us even in the worst of exiles.
Student studying in Machon Maayan