Joseph: The Continuing Saga

parashas Vayigash 5781


Joseph’s identity, hidden from his brothers, was revealed to them in a moment of time, wherein they had a private audience with the Egyptian ruler, who knew them, yet, they did not recognise him. Previously, up until that moment, they had seen him as a cruel ruler, who held his authority over them, inasmuch as he could do as he pleased: through intimidating them by placing them in jail three days; demanding that they return with their youngest brother; otherwise, they would not be able to see him, thereby obtaining necessary food during the famine; and, finally, taking Benjamin as a servant, under false charges. Their perception of him changed, when he said, “I am Joseph” (Genesis 45:3).

Joseph himself had previously told them, in regard to the incident whereof, he kept Simeon as a hostage, until they return with Benjamin, instead of keeping them all in prison, that he fears G-d. No light statement from an Egyptian ruler; yet, the brothers may not have accepted this statement as sincere. Now, they see his sincerity demonstrated, inasmuch that he shows them kindness, forgiveness, and mercy, the very qualities valued in Abrahamic legacy. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do his commandments; his praise endures for ever” (Psalms 111:10, Tanach Bible).

When Jacob arrived in Egypt with his family, his son, Joseph, harnessed his chariot and went out to greet him. Joseph provided for his family to live in the land of Goshen – a land removed from Egypt proper. As a consequence of their living in this location, they were isolated to some extent from the rest of Egyptian society. They had more freedom to follow the patriarchal ways of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and foster the character traits that they represented, as opposed to getting caught up in the idolatrous ways, and immorality of their neighbors.

Yet, even in the midst of the uncertainty, doubt, and fear, that settled in years later, after the children of Israel became enslaved in Egypt, there was the promise of hope in the redeemer. Before Joseph passed away, he told his brother, pekod pekodti, a redeemer will reveal himself to you. “G-d will surely remember you, and bring you up out of this land unto the land which He swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Genesis 50:24). The first redeemer, Moses, freed us from the shackles of Egypt, and brought us to Sinai, where through the covenant, we became obligated to to following the commandments, the first step in becoming a people unto G-d.

The Angelic Errand

B”H

parashas Vayishlach 5781

“Jacob sent messengers [malachim] before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the field of Edom.”

– Genesis 32:4, Jewish Publication Society

Previously, the Torah speaks of two camps of angels, one that accompanied Jacob to the edge of the land of Canaan, and another camp that served to accompany him and his entourage once they entered Canaan, the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants (see Genesis 32:2-3). Now, at the beginning of parashas Vayishlach, the Torah alludes to these very same angels that were assigned for protection (Genesis 32:4). The Hebrew word, malachim can mean messengers or angels. In the literal sense, Jacob sent messengers to Esau; yet, on another level, the angels granted to him for protection, may have also gone ahead of Jacob’s entourage to meet Esau.

Nachmanides comments that “this parsha is written to announce that H’Shem saved his servant and redeemed him with a strong arm, and he sent an angel to save him. And we learn more that he was not confident in his deeds, and he made an effort to save all that he could” (Ramban, 32:2, sefaria.org). Jacob himself states, “I am not worthy of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast shown unto Thy servant” (Genesis 32:11, JPS).

Jacob did not only rely on divine protection; rather, he made a three-fold preparation for an encounter with Esau: defense, prayers and appeasement. He divided his camp, so that if one camp was attacked, the other would escape; he prayed to H’Shem for deliverance from the hands of Esau; he also sent gifts to Esau. He sent droves of sheep, cattle, and goats ahead as gifts for Esau. His servants went ahead of him with the gifts. Finally, when Esau approached, Jacob went ahead of his family and bowed seven times to his brother Esau. By way of the gifts that Jacob sent ahead, and his own humble posture of subservience to Esau, even calling him, L-rd, out of deference, Jacob brought about a meeting with his brother that became more like a tearful reunion. “Esau’s pity was aroused when he saw him [Jacob] prostrating himself so many times” (Rashi, Genesis Rabbah 78:8, sefaria.org).

Connecting to Heritage

by Tzvi Fievel Schnee

B”H

Shiur for Ki Savo 5780

“That thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which thou shalt bring in from thy land that the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee; and thou shalt put it in a basket and shalt go unto the place which the L-RD thy G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.”

– Deuteronomy 26:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

The first fruits (bikurim) from each person’s harvest, were to be brought to “the place that H’Shem your G-d will choose” after B’nei Yisrael entered the Land. Upon giving the bikurim to a Kohein, one of G-d’s representatives, a proclamation was made, by the giver, declaring a brief historical background, encapsulating the identity of the Children of Israel from humble origins:

“And thou shalt speak and say before the L-RD thy G-d: ‘A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous.”

– Deuteronomy 26:5 , JPS 1917 Tanach

“My father, i.e. Yaakov, who was for a while a wandering lost person without a home of his own, was not at the time able to establish a nation deserving or fit to inherit this land.” – Sforno

Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, began his endeavors to establish a family, and vocation, as a wandering Aramean, having left home to find a wife. Yet, he went out into the world without anything of value, nor even any gifts for his wife-to-be. After twenty years of working for Laban, he set out to his home country. From there, he and the seventy members of his family were called to go down to Egypt. The Children of Israel were enslaved, eventually freed, and received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Entering the Promised Land would be the culmination of the Exodus.

Upon entering the land, the show of gratitude, a deep appreciation of H’Shem, and the origins of a national identity were acknowleged. Today, we need to reconnect with our origins as children of H’Shem. Once we are able to acknowledge our heritage, so that we may identify with our past as a people, we may also become aware of the Inheritance that awaits us. “Men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen” (Isaiah 64:3). Regarding this verse, Rashi explains that while the sages note that the prophets only spoke in regard to the Messianic era, they were not able to speak of Olam Haba (Berachos 34a). What awaits us in Olam Haba is beyond description, imagination, or our greatest expectations.