"And Joseph... went up to meet Israel his father... and he fell on his neck, and he wept on his neck for a long time" Genesis 46:29


If the Torah narratives were made into a TV series, this week would be the finale. After more than 20 years of agonising separation, Jacob and Joseph are reunited. But how you might direct that reunion scene is not so simple for commentators are divided as to what took place..

The initial standoff between Judah and Joseph ended with the latter identifying himself as their long-lost brother. After the initial panic and disbelief, the brothers return home and are eager to reunite father and son. Overwhelmed by the news, Jacob is keen to see his son but has his own reservations about descending to Egypt: he needs divine reassurance he will not remain there for ever.

The concept of family has been developing since the creation of Adam and Eve. Fathers and sons have had fractious relationships in the opening book of the Torah. This story, vague in its details, allows the reader to assume an either/or position. According to Rashi, it was Joseph who cried on his father's shoulder. The powerful ruler of Egypt kisses his father and cries like a child. Fathers are important, even ones absent for many years. Nachmanides understands the scene differently. It was Jacob who cried; the feelings of parents for their children are deeper than children's for their parents.

It doesn't really matter who cried. For most of Genesis, families have split up. One child has been pushed aside; parents are so blinded by their own feelings that they do not notice or understand a child. Finally at this late hour, we have a family reunited. Children cry for fathers and fathers for sons. Thus the nation of 70 souls, which began with one father, Abraham, is now ready for the next stage, building a relationship with its father in heaven.

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