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This work contains two items:
* Divrei Torah on the Parasha
* Questions on different levels on the Parasha
Joseph placed his father and his brothers, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded… (47:11)
The above introduces the final seventeen verses of the Parasha. The first two verses recount Joseph’s enabling his father and family to settle in Egypt in an honorable manner. However, the narrative then moves back two years (according to Rashi ad loc) and describes how Joseph ran the local and international economy during the years of famine.
ere was no bread in all the land for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and all the land of Canaan fainted because of the famine. Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan in exchange for the grain that they bought. Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house (47:13-14)
As the effects of the famine grew worse:
Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for each Egyptian sold his field, because the famine prevailed over them; so the land became Pharaoh’s. As for the (Egyptian) people, he moved them to cities - from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end. (47:20-21)
Chronologically, this belongs to Parashat Miketz – at the end of Chapter 41, which describes the great hunger of Egypt and beyond during the famine. Why does the Torah recount the details only much later on – after Jacob arrived in Egypt? With that event, according to the Tosefta (Sota 10:3), the famine ceased. In addition, why does the Torah sandwich this narrative between relating what happened to Jacob and his family when they settled in Egypt? As the last verse states:
Israel (Jacob) lived in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions in it, and grew, and multiplied exceedingly (47:27)
Moreover the middle section that focuses on the Egyptians appears atypical of the Torah’s general approach. That narrative seems to form a chapter in Egyptian history rather than the development of the Torah nation and the lessons and values learnt from it.
One key to understanding these seventeen verses may be found by looking at them from Jacobs’s point of view. In Pharaoh’s first and only recorded dialogue with Jacob.
Pharaoh said to Jacob, ‘How many are the years of your life’?
Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourning are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourningR17; (47:8-9).
R. Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the above in the following way. He notes that both Pharaoh and Jacob spoke of days and years as if they represented separate concepts. Pharaoh understood that many people who reach a very advanced age may have only lived a few of their days to the full – many people do not reach anywhere near their full potential. Seeing before him Jacob – a man of great stature – he asked him, “Tell me, how many meaningful days have you had in your long life”. In response, Jacob responded modestly, saying that his life was not comparable with the life of his ancestors. They lived more - in the sense that every day of their existence was living – and they could carry out their missions under more cheerful conditions.
By contrast the last seventeen years of his life appear to have been happy ones as he was united with his family. The final seventeen verses, when read together, show how Joseph contributed to his father’s final happy years. As a unit, it teaches us important lessons in how the Fifth Commandment – honoring parents – should be observed.
The first two verses – “…he gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded. Jacob sustained his father and his brothers… with food…” (47:11-12) exemplifies the material ways in which children should care for elderly parents. As the Talmud defines:
What is the meaning of honor – (as in honoring parents)? It means to provide the means by which they may eat and drink, be clothed, and personally accompanied where necessary (Kiddushin 31b)
The return to the narrative of how Joseph organized the welfare of the hungry Egyptians and others illustrates another extremely important, but less obvious way of respecting parents – namely, bringing a good name on them. As banker of Egypt, Joseph would have had many chances to ‘put his hand into the till’. In order to emphasize Joseph’s loyalty and honesty, the Torah makes a point of saying that he ‘brought the money to Pharaoh’s house’ (47:14; Ramban on 41:18). There was no false accounting.
Coupled with his incorruptibility, he showed exemplary compassion to the Egyptians. When conditions became so acute that they had to sell their lands for food, ‘he moved them to cities - from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end’. On one hand he was concerned that if he let them remain in their own homes, each would cling tenaciously to their former properties as if they still owned them. He owed it to Pharaoh, to whom he served as banker and administrator that anyone’s association with a certain piece of state land was exclusively at the king’s pleasure. Nevertheless he showed compassion – he moved ‘the people’ – en masse to different parts of Egypt. Had he split up groups of people, he would have broken down the social and community structure with harmful effects to each person. Instead he moved entire communities so that old friends would remain together in their new territories (R. Nosson Scherman, ArtScroll Stone Edition of Genesis, pp. 266-7).
So Joseph did not just take care of his father’s material needs, but he gave him in the last years of his life what a parent wants most – real nachat. For Jacob saw the great positive qualities wisdom, honesty and compassion that he had instilled in his son being consistently used by him to better the welfare of peoples and nations – to the continuing good name of the family. As Rashi explains on the words ‘Joseph was in EgyptR17; (Ex. 1-5), his conduct was exemplary even though he was in a spiritually unwholesome environment.
Because Joseph had cared for his father both materially and spiritually, this passage concludes with the words ‘Jacob lived in the land of EgyptR17; (47:27) R11; he actually lived - in the sense of being able to fulfill his true potential under cheerful conditions. We may learn from here how people can raise the quality of their elderly parents’ lives in not just catering for their physical welfare, but in conducting their lifestyles in such a way that their parents may be truly proud of them. That would be one of the highest levels in observing the Fifth Commandment.
PARASHAT VAYIGASH – FOR THE STUDENT AND FOR AROUND THE TABLE
THE TEXT ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - QUESTIONSWho said to whom, and in what circumstances?
(a) His soul is bound up with his soul.
(b) Is my father still alive?
(c) You will eat the fat of the land.
(d) Do not quarrel on the way.
(e) I will go and see him before I die.
(f) Do not be frightened to go down to Egypt.
(g) You shall say: 'Your servants have been cattlemen'.
(h) We have come to live in the land.
(i) The days... of my life have been few and bad.
(j) You have saved out lives.
THE TEXT ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - ANSWERS
(a) Judah to Joseph incognito, as the Viceroy of Egypt, in pleading for the release of Benjamin in his stead. (44:30)
(b) Joseph, on revealing his true identity to his brothers, exclaimed: 'I am Joseph - is my father (Jacob) still alive?' (45:3)
(c) Pharaoh to Joseph, in inviting Jacob and his sons to come to Egypt. (45:18)
(d) Joseph to his brothers, on seeing them off to Canaan (45:24).
(e) Jacob to his sons, on learning that Joseph was still alive.(45:28)
(f) G-d to Jacob, at the beginning of his journey from Canaan to Egypt. (46:3)
(g) Joseph to his brothers, in preparing them to successfully persuade Pharaoh to allow them to live close to him in Goshen, in Egypt (46:34).
(h) Joseph's brothers to Pharaoh (47:4), in the circumstances in #(g) above.
(i) Jacob to Pharaoh, on their first meeting. (47:9)
(j) The Egyptians to Joseph, on his supplying them with seeds to keep alive during the famine, in return for a fifth of their produce being passed to Pharaoh (47:25).
RASHI ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - QUESTIONS
1. One may tell untruths if in real danger.
2. When travelling, keep eyes on the road first - even if discussing matters of Torah importance!
3. Honoring parents comes before honoring grandparents.
4. Honoring parents comes before one's own routine.
5. Pharaoh's offer of hopitality to Jacob turned out to be to his own great advantage (two sources).
RASHI ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - ANSWERS
1. In pleading for Benjamin to be spared, Judah states that 'his brother is dead'. (44:20) He had no proof at the time that Joseph - the 'brother' was dead. He said so out of fear that if he said otherwise, he might be forced to bring him down to Egypt, as previously with Bemjamin.That, from Judah's point of view, was impossible. From there it can be illustrated that one may tell untruths when in personal danger.
2. Joseph warned his brothers when they set towards Canaan to bring their father Jacob: 'al tirgezu baderech' - do not become agitated on the way (45:25). That expression, according to Rashi, can mean not to get involved in a Halachic argument less 'the road becomes angry at you' - a figurative expression telling them not to become so engrossed that they lose their way.
3. Rashi comments on 'He slaugtered offerings to the G-d of hisnd the Egyptians begging Joseph for seeds in the second year of the famine (47:19) hints at the tradition that the famine did indeed come to an end on Joseph's arrival in Egypt.
OTHER COMMENTATORS ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - QUESTIONS
1. The Torah records that Joseph died at the age 110 (50:26). The Talmud (Sotah 13b) has the tradition that he should have lived to 120, but that he forfeited ten years of his life. For what reason, as derived from the opening section of this Parasha?
2. The arrival of Joseph's brothers, after their true identity was revealed, was 'good in the eyes of Pharaoh' (45:16). Why was this so, according to (a) the Ramban and (b) the Sforno?
3. The Rabbis have a tradition that Aravit, the evening prayer, was instituted by Jacob. How, according to the Meshech Chochma, does that connect with this Parasha?
4. Why, according to the Sforno, did G-d tell Jacob not to be afraid of 'going down to Egypt?' (46:3)
5. Why, according to Hisrch, were 'all shepherds (Joseph's brothers' occupation) abominations to the Egyptians'? (46:34)
OTHER COMMENTATORS ON PARASHAT VAYIGASH - ANSWERS
1. The Talmud (Sotah 13b) has the tradition that Joseph was punished for remaining silent when his own father was described by Judah as 'avdecha' - your servant. He lost ten years of his life as a punishment for doing so. Judah himself had done nothing wrong because he thought that he was addressing Egyptian royalty, and such was the required ettiquette of the time and place. However, Joseph - from his own point of view - would not have revealed his identity by saying that a resident of Canaan was not his subject - his servant.
2. According to the Ramban, Pharaoh was delighted that his country would no longer bear the stigma of being ruled by an ex-slave and an ex-convict of unknown origins. Now, he could demonstrate that Joseph - his viceroy - came from a highly distinguished background. The Sforno stresses that as Joseph's own family were becoming residents of Egypt, he would think of himself as a fully fledged member of that community and become even more devoted to its interests.
3. The text states that G-d appeared to Jacob early on his descent to Egypt 'in the visions of night'. (46:2) This is the only place where a vision is described in those terms - which imply impending darkness. Indeed, the long period in Egypt leading to years of harsh slavery began at that time. The night of exile, when hope was wrapped in darkness, was about to begin. G-d, therefore came in the 'visions of night' to stress to Jacob that though the Israelites would be cut off from their Land, they would never be cut off from G-d - He would always be with them. Therefore, explains the Meshech Chochma, Jacob instituted the 'Aravit' - daily evening prayer, to show his descedants likewise: the night might be an epilogue to one day, but it is the prologue to another, better day.
4. According to the S'forno, G-d told Jacob not to fear, because in Egypt his descendants would be in less danger of assimilating with the surrounding nations than in the Land of Canaan. For in Egypt, the foreigner was kept at arm's length - as the text itself records: 'for the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews - it was an abomination for Egypt'. (43:32)
5. Hirsch finds the traits of the shepherd unacceptable to the Egyptians. Because a shepherd is involved with dependant living creatures, he develops the personal attributes of kindness and generosity. Because his possessions are unstable, he learns not to place too much emphasis on wealth. And the gently rhythm of his work gives him time to contemplate on holier and less mundane matters. The Egyptians, writes Hirsch, has a culture that abhored the above values. It encouraged slavery and the disregard of human dignity, and the resultant perversions and excesses of the country have been well documented.
A favorite comment from the Chafetz Chayim: When Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers with the words 'I am Joseph' G-d's master plan became clear to the brothers. They had no more questions. Everything that had happened for the last twenty-two years fell into perspective. So, too, it will be in the time to come when G-d will reveal Himself and announce 'I am G-d!' The veil will be lifted from our eyes and we will comprehend the meaning of our very strange and tortuous history…
SOME ITEMS FOR DISCUSSION
1. The Midrash explains that the reason Jacob sent Judah in advance of him (46:28) was to establish a house of Torah study. This Midrashic explanation emphasizes the need to prioritize Torah education at every place where there is a Jewish community. What was the reason Jacob wanted a house of Torah study to be established in Egypt before he arrived there? Surely he himself could have performed the task better than his son would have? After all, Jacob was (according to the Midrash) a direct disciple of Shem and Ever.
2. The text states: Israel journeyed with all he had and he came to Be-er Sheva. He made offerings to the G-d of his father Isaac… G-d spoke to Israel in night visions and he said R16;Jacob, JacobR17;R30; R16;Do not fear to descend to Egypt for I shall make you into a great nation thereR17; (46:1-3). The Torah uses the word zevach rather than olah for an offering. That implies a korban shelamim – a peace offering (Vayikra 3:1). Why did Jacob make that type of korban – something that is usually brought as thanks, when he was leaving the Promised Land? And why, having Himself changed his name to Israel did He subsequently use the name Jacob.
*Please note – My own attempts to deal with the issues related in #1 and #2 may be found in the archives for 5762 and 5761 respectively in Shema Yisrael – on Parashat Vayigash
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: email@example.com for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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