In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph is reunited with his parents after years of separation. The Torah focuses on Joseph’s emotional reunions with his brothers and his father, describing the scenes with language that is moving and evocative. In this Midrashic Monologue, we have chosen to expand on that textual foundation by exploring the moments when Joseph was reunited with his mothers (his father’s wives), Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah. (1)
When my family approached, my eyes went first to my father’s face. “ABBA!” I shouted, running towards him and throwing myself into his arms.
We embraced and wept for endless moments, thanking God for the opportunity to once again be together.
It was only after we separated that I saw the women standing behind him. “Ima Leah,” I said, as she opened her arms to me. She then passed me to my other mothers, and I whispered greetings of “Ima Bilhah” and “Ima Zilpah” as I clung to each of them.
After greeting the three women, I stood and allowed myself to bask in the moment, feeling overwhelmed and grateful to have them with me again. Her face mirroring my joy, Leah reached out to me, and I stepped toward her without hesitation.
She held my hands in a strong grip, and then nodded to Bilhah and Zilpah who moved to either side of her and placed their hands on my shoulders.
Leah saw my confusion at their formal pose and smiled, “Joseph, for many years, we have carried within our hearts the blessing your mother asked us to give to you. We have prayed for the opportunity to share her words with you, her beloved first born, and today Imaynu Bashamyim, Our Heavenly Mother, has given us the gift of this moment.”
I bowed my head and replied, “The words of my mother would be my greatest treasure.”
All three women, united in purpose, closed their eyes and called to mind the words that their sister had given to them for safe keeping.
Leah spoke first,
“Today, we three stand for Rachel, our sister by blood and by circumstance. We offer you, Joseph, her oldest child, the blessing she wished so desperately to be able to give you herself.”
“Joseph, your mother told us that you were the dream of her heart. You were the answer to her loneliness, the promise of her future. You were her dream, and even after you were gone, she dreamt of you still.”
Zilpah took up the task, saying,
“Your mother knew that you were still alive; she dreamt of the day when we would find you. She foresaw this moment, and she wished that she could be with us, that she could hold out her arms and catch you as you flew across the sands. But in her dreams, she did not see her face among this crowded scene.”
Leah's voice rang with emotion and power as she said,
“Joseph, on behalf of our sister, we call out to the God who brought you to her, and we ask God to fill your life with beauty and color and strength. We ask God to protect the family you have created and to ease your return into the family that created you. We pray that you will find comfort and nourishment in the arms of your brothers and sisters and that you will watch over and always protect your youngest brother Benjamin.
“Joseph, know that your mother is with you. Feel her in our embrace, the embrace of her sisters, women with whom she walked this earth for so many years. God be with you, our son, always.”
Zilpah wiped at her eyes with her free hand and said, “In the name of your mother, Rachel, we offer this prayer for you.”
Bilhah cleared her throat before adding, “In the name of our friend, Rachel, we offer this prayer for you.”
Finally Leah concluded, “In the name of our sister, Rachel, we offer this prayer for you.”
I was overcome by the power of my mother’s blessing. I couldn’t seem to stop shaking, and it took me several moments to gather enough strength to respond with, “Amen.”
Feeling the tremors in my hands, Leah wrapped her arms around me and whispered, “She always loved you, Joseph, and she loves you still. She sent us to you, and we will remain with you for the rest of our days.”
Leah took a step back and gestured for her children, my siblings, to join us.
As I led my family into the land that I had helped to save, the land that I hoped would protect them, I walked amongst my mothers knowing in my heart that there were four spirits, not three, who accompanied me.
In writing this Midrashic Monologue, we have embraced the ambiguity of the text of Genesis which does not say definitively whether Rachel, Joseph’s biological mother, was still alive when Joseph’s brothers allowed their parents to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. Because the chronology is unclear, we have decided that for the purposes of this Midrashic Monologue, Rachel was still alive when Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and that she had enough time to entrust her fellow wives with a message for her oldest child before ultimately passing away after giving birth to her youngest.