In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash (Gen. 44:18 – 47:27), the family secrets that have been going on throughout the story of Joseph come to an end. Joseph’s brothers come to buy food in Egypt and face Pharaoh’s vizier, who they do not recognize as their brother Joseph. After a series of cat-and-mouse games, Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers. Although he sends the Egyptians out of the room before he does so, he cries so loudly that the whole palace hears him. The word goes out that Joseph’s brothers have arrived and Pharaoh invites them to go back to Canaan and bring their whole household with them, and he will find them a place to live in the best area in Egypt. The brothers go back to Canaan to tell Jacob that not only is his son Joseph still alive, but that he had acquired great wealth and power and was second only to the Pharaoh. All is revealed except one thing; Jacob is left to believe that Joseph was abducted by some unknown group and sold into servitude in Egypt. His sons do not tell him that it was Joseph’s own brothers who placed him in the pit and argued over whether to kill him or sell him.
Family secrets sow seeds of pain, guilt, confusion and anger. In the case of Jacob and his descendants, the end of the long secrecy causes happiness and reconciliation. But there are some secrets whose revelation would only bring more suffering. And those secrets are best left untold.