SEIZING THE LONG FORELOCKS
So they (the brothers) sent this message to Joseph, Before his death our father left this instruction, so shall you say to Joseph, "Forgive I urge you the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly”… And Joseph was in tears when they spoke to him. [Genesis 50: 17]
Joseph … went to Goshen to meet his father, Israel, and embracing him around the neck he wept … for a good while. [ibid 46: 49]
Joseph wept when he heard his brothers quoting their father that they be forgiven for their terrible behavior. He was obviously saddened that his brothers feared that with Jacob’s death, he would avenge himself for their treatment of him.
These tears were in contrast to the tears of joy shed at the reunion with his father following the twenty-two year separation. People do cry when overcome with emotion, and thus the weeping at the moment of their reunion. Yet Joseph’s tears may well have been tears of regret. For over two decades he had made no attempt to contact his father and at the very least, assure him of his safety and well being. Perhaps Joseph continued the long separation, out of conviction that his return to the family would only exacerbate the tension and the hatred that so poisoned his relationship with his brothers.
The surge of emotions at the reunion may have triggered within Joseph the full impact of the lost twenty-two years that could never be replicated. Those years were now in the dustbin of their personal histories and could never be recovered. Regardless of the reason for his hesitation to make contact, Joseph knew in the depths of his heart that he had deprived his father of solace and comfort and also denied both of them the joy of mutual contact.
A proverb describes opportunity as having long hair in front, but short hair behind. Thus when she comes toward you, she is to be seized by her forelocks, for once she passes by she can never be caught.
We can all recall the innumerable opportunities that we have allowed to rush past us. A friend was in the hospital and we thought of making a visit, but somehow failed to get there. There are the shivah calls we missed, and the family events from which we absented ourselves. All too often we discover that our subsequent efforts to play catch-up are frustrating and to no avail.
There is the risky job opportunity from which we backed away that in hindsight turns out to have been a poor decision. We may berate ourselves for our hesitation, but alas this humpty dumpty cannot be put together.
Parents of adult children often remark with more than a touch of regret that they didn't spend enough time with their children when they were young. Office appointments or other activities at the time seemed more important than attending a little league game or being present at a dance recital.
The Talmud records a discussion as to whether we can make up for missed prayers, for missed attendance at Services. The prevailing view is that once the time for prayer has passed, it is added to the missed opportunities in our lives. A Shabbat missed is a Shabbat that can never be retrieved. The pursuit of the spiritual, much like all other pursuits, must be seized by the proverbial forelocks.
New resolutions or restated resolutions are popular at the start of a new calendar year. Hopefully there will be ample occasions in 2012 to shed tears of joy and of happiness together with our loved ones. May we also be spared tears of regret and frustration brought on by missed opportunities and may we be ever alert to the forelocks waiting to be successfully grasped.
From the holy city of Jerusalem, Rae joins me in wishing all a Shabbat shalom u’mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and of blessing and fulfilling, successful and healthy 2012
Rabbi Arnold M. Goodman
Senior Rabbinic Scholar
Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Atlanta, Georgia 30327
January 5, 2012
10 Tevet 5772