Parshat VaYigush

Summary: VaYigush is the 11th parasha in the Book of Genesis spanning chapters 44:18-47:27. It begins with the climactic speech of Judah, offering himself in place of Benjamin who was about to be incarcerated for the falsified crime of having stolen Joseph’s silver goblet.

Judah’s heart-wrenching plea pierced Joseph’s cold veneer and the charade came to an abrupt and tearful end. Revealing to his brothers his true identity, and after their deep shock, Joseph instructed them to return home to Cana’an to persuade their father Jacob to move to Goshen in Egypt.

Expunging them of all sin, Joseph explained the famine would continue for 5 more years and to avoid perishing, they had to relocate nearby where he could personally sustain them. Wagons were provided and Jacob, after stopping in Be’ar Sheba to offer a sacrifice to G-d, made his way to Goshen.

The Torah lists the 70 souls who went down to Egypt, Judah arriving ahead of the others to get orientated. Joseph, preparing his own chariot, welcomed his father; they fell on each other and cried. Joseph rehearsed his father and brothers for their royal audience with Pharaoh, who afterwards invited them to live in Egypt as his guests. Joseph provided the family with bread when the rest of the country was without.

As the famine deepened, the Egyptians traded their money, their livestock and eventually their land just to have food and grain to sustain themselves. The populace, other than the Priest class, became sharecroppers, giving 20% in annual tax to Pharaoh and keeping the remainder for themselves.

Comment: On the surface it would seem Joseph’s behaviour toward his brothers was one of anger and revenge. Just as they treated him heartlessly as a youth, so was his approach toward them during their time of need. And, as readers, we might side with Joseph. Didn’t he have every right to get back at them?

Years of his life wasted, hardships he was never expected to endure as a son of Jacob, we can almost imagine the rage boiling within Joseph. Judah’s integrity in vouching safe for Benjamin convinced Joseph that his older brother, whose idea it was to sell Joseph as a slave, had matured. And, perhaps he perceived the family would welcome his return.

At the Aleinu Conference in London this week, Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington expounded the passage from morning Tefillah before the Shema where we recite the words Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh (Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts who fills the world with Divine Glory).

These words are attributed to the Angels praise of the Almighty. The rabbi explained Angels must do so in unison because all of Creation reflects the Unity of G-d and to deviate from this formula would be a corruption.

In a similar way, a mistreated Joseph was the one person who could restore a sense of unity with his brothers. Justifiable hatred would have left them an ordinary family. For the Children of Israel to eventually achieve their destiny to become a nation worthy of G-d’s redemptive effort and Divine intervention, this restorative moment was invaluable.

At various points in Jewish history, families pulled together in times of crisis to overcome hardship. This is one of the legacies we inherited as Jews.