Sometimes it's hard to know what the right words are to say. In a person’s life it can be especially difficult at powerful and important moments; we can find ourselves, sometimes, searching for those words that sum up exactly how we are feeling and that express everything we want to say to another person. And sometimes it's about sharing more than words in our interactions with other people.
This week in our Torah we read the continuation of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers. And we see now that we've reached the peak moment as Judah pleads with Joseph to allow the brothers to return to Jacob and especially take Benjamin with him. But then Joseph can no longer control himself, and he cries out having everyone leave the room and then he tells his brothers that he is really Joseph.
He reveals himself to them, speaks to them, invites them forward, and even says to them: ‘I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now do not be distressed or reproach Yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you’ (Gen. 45:4-5). Joseph continues ‘God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt’ (Gen 45:7-8).
Joseph's words make it very clear that he bears no grudge against his brothers, and that he has forgiven them completely. And in fact, Joseph now sees it is all as part of God's plan and God's will. But the brothers are still unable to respond; they still don't know what to say; and it is only when we read: ‘With that he embraced his brother Benjamin around the neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk to him’ (Gen 45:14-15).
In this situation Joseph's words were simply not sufficient. It was only with the embrace, the kiss, and the weeping that the brothers finally knew that they had been forgiven. Only then could they open up and speak back to their brother Joseph. Words were important and laid the foundations, but it took more than words for Joseph’s brothers to truly open up and to believe him. We always need to be conscious of how we use our words, but we need to be equally conscious about our actions and the message that they express and give to others.