Nelson Mandela & Joseph
a message from Rabbi Debra upon the passing of
Nelson Mandela


The synchronicities of life are nothing short of miraculous. Nelson Mandela died during the week of the Torah portion “Vayigash” and he will be commemorated throughout the week of “Vayechi.” These portions complete the cycle of Joseph stories, which recount a life that has remarkable parallels to Mandela’s.

Mandela, like Jospeh, proved himself extraordinary at a very young age. Like Joseph, he received privileges in his youth that had not been known by any other family member. Notably, he was sent to school and taught to read. He was thrown into prison, like Joseph, and, again like Joseph, he rose to the highest levels of government immediately upon his release. Both leaders forgave their captors.

Click here for a link to a chart that outlines these and other similarities, including parallel statements from the two leaders.

 Mandela was a Christian, educated in the Bible. Certainly, the parallels between his story and Joseph’s were not lost on him. We don’t know to what extent they inspired him and helped him carry on – in and out of prison.

 This we do know: the Bible sets for us role models that we can aspire to. The heroes of the Bible were human. Joseph wasn’t as forgiving in the Torah portion Vayigash as he became in Vayechi. He matured. He grew. He developed greater compassion, humility, and forgiveness. Mandela, like Joseph, continued to grow his whole life long.

 Following their examples, we can grow, as well. We can become “Madiba” – the name by which Mandela was known, meaning “respected elder(s).” Not perfect; not without temptations and flaws; but respected, respectful, and worthy of the appellation “righteous – tzaddik.”

 May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. Zecher tzaddikim livracha.