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VaYigash (And He (Judah) Approached) – Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

The Descent to Egypt to Create the Nation

This week’s portion begins in the middle of the story of the final confrontation between Joseph and his brothers, before Joseph reveals himself to them.  At the end of last week’s portion, we have heard Joseph’s cruel accusations and Judah’s failed attempts to appease him.  But in this week’s portion, we see Judah rise to the occasion, as he begins the speech of his life, an amazing, emotional, passionate and factual address to the man he believes holds the power of life and death over them. I would like to focus on the verses that describe the brothers’ first encounter with Jacob upon their return home and the subsequent descent to Egypt. 

“And they told him: Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt. And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. (Genesis 45:26)

Imagine the scene – Jacob has never ceased mourning for his beloved Joseph and now he is told, all of a sudden, that Joseph is not only alive but is the ruler of Egypt.  Of course, Jacob has trouble believing this news.  But then the brothers fill him in on all of the details and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Genesis 45:27).

The commentaries have long questioned, what was it about the wagons that aroused his spirit and enabled him to believe that Joseph was, indeed, alive.  There is an interesting Midrash that explains that Jacob and Joseph had been studying a Biblical passage together, that connected with wagons, and Jacob recalled this when he saw the wagons.  There was no Bible written at this time, so this Midrash is not to be taken literally.  But what it does reflect is the fact that Jacob recalled his spiritual relationship with Joseph.  He understood that Joseph had in fact sent for him and that Joseph’s call to him would have spiritual, and perhaps prophetic, consequences. 

Immediately thereafter, Jacob decides to go to Egypt himself.  His initial statement reflects an intention to visit – to see Joseph one more time before he dies (Genesis 45:28). But the actual preparations and procession to Egypt indicate that the entire family is moving to that land for a very long time.  And the journey is of prophetic proportion indeed.  God appears to Jacob just before his departure from Canaan and He says to him: I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again” (Genesis 46:3-4). 

When the children of Jacob first leave Canaan to seek food in Egypt, Jacob says to them:  Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die. So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt” (Genesis 42:2-3).  The journey to Egypt is consistently referred to as a descent, as a going down to Egypt.  While it is customary to refer to the trip from Israel to Egypt as a descent (Genesis 12:10), there seems to be something far more powerful at work here.  Rashi, the classic Jewish commentator notes that the Hebrew word that Jacob uses for “go down” (Redu) is the numerical equivalent of 210 – the number of years that the Children of Israel are actually enslaved in Egypt.  When Jacob instructed his children to go to Egypt, there is a foreboding of the long exile this original journey will set in motion.

That foreboding is present even more so in the final journey of Jacob and his children to Egypt, and implicit in God’s promise to Jacob are the dangers and long exile that they will endure throughout the centuries. Two generations earlier, God had warned Abraham that his children would be strangers in a strange land and that they would be enslaved there (Genesis 15:13).  This Divine warning had probably been preserved as a family tradition and Jacob would have sensed that his journey would be the start of that long exile.  But Jacob also knows that he has no choice – this is not merely a journey to see Joseph before he dies – this is a journey that has monumental significance to the Nation of Israel.  Joseph has beckoned to him on a spiritual level as well.

They also took their livestock and their goods, which they had gained in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters. All his offspring he brought with him into Egypt” (Genesis 46:6-7).  They leave the Land of Canaan as Jacob’s family and will only return after becoming the Nation of Israel, to a land that will be forever known as the Land of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,

Sondra Baras
Director, Israel Office

5 thoughts on “VaYigash (And He (Judah) Approached) – Genesis 44:18 – 47:27”

  1. “Orchestrations” eh? Everything is possible. Why God did some things and not others, why doesn’t He do this and not that, etc. is something we little, teacup brained humans will never understand.

    Did Jacob understand something? Possibly, but we will never know. I DO know that God knows EVERYTHING. And for some mysterious reason I personally will never understand, God chose to have 40 some odd people–all products of their time frame and cultures–to put together the Bible.

  2. This is a comment on how we understand prophecy, or not, as the case may be. A present day example of this lies within the great majority of the present day church. The Tanach is littered with prophecies and promises that Israel WILL return to their Biblical homeland, and it is happening right now as we communicate. Form me, it beggars belief, but then so few of the church know their Bible.
    i am noe, finally back on the internet … at last!

  3. When I was a child attending grade 2 our teacher read portions of the Bible every morning. When the story of Joseph was read I couldn’t hold back my tears. It was the first time that I remember being moved on by the holy scriptures. Now that I’m 62 years old I can look back with some understanding that the theme of G-d’s
    purposes are revealed in this portion through Joseph revealing himself to his brethren with mercy and forgiveness as he sees Judah’s repentance for what all of them together did to their little brother Joseph. He finally does the right thing and is willing to save his youngest brother Benjamin from a similar path. Joseph says “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for G-d did send me before you to preserve life.” G-d’s greatest priority is to preserve life. May we learn from Joseph’s excellent spirit and always choose the higher road.

  4. This is a good teaching.
    I guess the history of Israel is littered with exiles and return/restoration, of which we are witnesses right now. Once out of Egypt, i recall great victories, conflict, rebellions, etc. It still goes on but to final victory for Israel.

  5. Sondra I love the way you presented Genesis 45:27 “and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father
    Jacob revived.” Ezekiel chapter 1 shows us the wheels of G-d. It talks about the likeness of four living creatures Ezekiel 1:16 ” and their
    appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.” Ezekiel 1:18 “As for their rings, they were so high that they
    were dreadful {awesome!} ; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four.” When Jacob saw {Hebrew Ra ah} to see intellectually
    To live to see, to live to enjoy, to cause to see to cause to enjoy. To be fully aware. The wheels always speak of the purposes of G-d. I believe there was a spiritual connection between Jacob and Joseph as is taught in the Midrash. The living creatures of Ezekiel’s vision
    were joined by their wings {spirit} not there four faces. So when Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph sent every purpose of G-d given to
    Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob was made alive and he knew that Israel would come to live in and enjoy every great and precious promise.

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