Monday, December 26, 2011

He Turned...and Wept

Genesis 42:24 And he turned himself about from them, and wept; and he returned to them, and spoke to them, and took Simeon from among them, and bound him before their eyes.

He would have to keep one brother with, one brother to ensure the others would return. Part of him wanted to Reuven to stay, so that he could privately thank him for stopping the other from killing him. Or Judah, for getting him out of harm’s way. They were the ones who always stepped between him and danger. They were different. They told him stories of his mother, how  beautiful and funny she was.

But Shimon caught his eye. Shimon, the fierce one, the one who masterminded the massacre at Shechem, was also the one who stood up for Dina, their only sister. He made her whole again, and protected her in his own household. He made sure her son by Shechem was counted.  No matter what happened between him and Shimon, it was Shimon who stepped up for beautiful Dina. For a fleeting moment, Yosef and Shimon locked eyes and the with the smallest perceptible flicker, the decision was made. 

“I will keep that one with me,” Yosef pronounced. No sooner had the words passed his lips than Shimon was separated from the group.

His arms bound behind him, Shimon turned toward his brothers, and said, “I will fine. Go home. Do not worry about me; worry about our father who will be bereft at the loss of another son.” He turned back to the Egyptian. “You will guarantee their safety until the border.” It was not a question.

This time, Yosef met his brother’s stare dead on. He nodded and walked from the room.

Shimon expected the worst. He was certain that was Yosef, and equally certain Yosef held him accountable for his demise. He expected to be tortured or starved or both. Defending his actions was not an option; there was no defense for what he did. And he did want to kill him; he wasn’t a bystander; he was part of the plot. But what haunted his dreams was not the moment he dropped that smug pain in the ass into the pit; it was the face of their father when he was told. The look of horror, of pain, of agony would forever mar any remembrance of his father. If this was to be the end, so be it.

But he was neither tortured nor starved nor abused in any way. There was no confrontation nor so much as a glimpse of Yosef. He was just locked up in this palace of a prison. Expected to bathe regularly, he was given a clean tunic each week. The meals were simple, well prepared  versions of the food he ate at home. He was allowed to walk in the gardens twice each day, once at dawn and again at dusk. There was always beer at midday and fruited water after dinner. He was given a raised bed, something he’d bothered with in Canaan, and skins to lie on. Save for the boredom, he lived more comfortably in prison than he ever had when he was free. But despite all the comforts, he was sure the end was just around the corner. Perhaps they were fattening him for sacrifice to one of their gods.

For the first month, Yosef avoided seeing Shimon in his cell. Any doubts he had about Shimon knowing were blown away when the bound brother told the others, “Do not worry about me; worry about our father who will be bereft at the loss of another son.”  His own anger long gone, he could not decide how to face his brother. It had to be done carefully, with great delicacy. Every night, when the house was dark, he would leave his chamber to walk through his garden. It was a ritual; he would play out all the possibilities in his mind in hopes one of them would show itself to be most probable. None ever did.

One night when the moon was sliced in half, he leaned against a tree and stared at the wall of Shimon’s prison house. There was no lamplight from inside; no household noise, no wind in the treetops. So still was the air that at first he thought it was a breeze. “Yosi.” But he heard it again. “Yosi.” It was the name he’s not heard since that last day.


Yosef walked toward the building that housed Shimon. He stopped a short distance from the window.

“I am glad you are not dead,” whispered the voice.

“So am I. ”

“You can kill me if you want. It would be just.”

“No, it would not.”

“What do you want to do with me?”

“Besides punch you in the nose?”

In the darkness, Shimon smiled in spite of himself. “You can if you want.”

Yosef shook his head. “You have a head like a rock. I’d probably break a knuckle.” Yosef walked the rest of the way to the door. He lifted the iron bar that blocked the door. “Let’s walk.”

“Are you sure?”

“If you try to drop me in another pit, my guards will kill you.”

For a long while they walked in silence. Finally, Yosef asked, “When did you know?”

“Almost right away. It was hard not to say anything.”

“Same here. I mean about not saying anything. I recognized you all the moment you came into the courtyard.”

Shimon stopped walked and stared at his brother. Without all the regalia, without the fancy robes and Egyptian face paint, Yosef still looked like a little kid. “You look better without all the kohl around your eyes. You look more like you. But I recognized you anyway.”

“You have to tell me why, Shimi,” he said, calling his brother  by his family name.

“You know why, Yosi.” Shimon kept his eyes straight ahead. “You were a pain in the ass. A smug pain in the ass at that. We knew Abba loved you above all of us because you were Rachel’s son. We all love Rachel, she was our mother, too. But he made you a prince when the rest of us were working our asses off.” He stopped. “Why am I explaining all this? You know the answer. It was stupid and childish, and we should’ve just beat you up a few times and not dropped you in the pit.”

“Or sold me.”

“Or sold you. But maybe that was part of the plan. Look how well you’ve done for Egypt. Maybe it was supposed to be this way.”

“I would’ve rather just applied for the job,” Yosef said drily. “It wasn’t easy to get here. There were other pits.”

“But they made you stronger, no?”

“Yes. And smarter. And less of a pain in the ass, I think.”
Shimon laughed softly. “You’re still a pain the ass would be my guess.”

“Yeah,” shrugged Yosef, “probably, but now I get paid to be a pain in the ass.”

They walked along in silence. “We are not allowed to talk about you.”


Shimon shook his head. “No. To utter your name near father is to risk being whacked by his walking staff. You are there all the time, but you are unspoken. There isn’t a day that goes by that we are not aware of your absence. Even our sons know the empty place beside Abba is yours.”

“I have sons, Shimi. Two of them, Ephraim and Manasseh.”

“What do you tell them about us?”

“That I have eleven brothers and we were separated by G-d’s will. They are young yet. That’s all they need to hear right now.”

They had come full circle, and were standing near the little prison house. “What happens now?” asked Shimon.

“You need to stay here for appearance sake. My scouts tell me our brothers are on their way. Do you think Abba will survive the shock of learning I am alive?” 

"I don't know. He's frail. He's old, Yosi. You need to be prepared for that."

Yosef chewed on his lower lip, holding it there with his finger, and was surprised when Shimon reached over and swatted his hand away. 

“Don’t do that…you’ll bleed and get cracked lips,” admonished the elder brother, “Reuven’s not here and there’s no honey balm to give you.”  Then, he opened his arms to his younger brother.

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