Parashat Vayigash Erev Shabbat 25 December 2020
Week of 20-26 December 2020
Torah portion: Genesis 44:18-47:27   Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Theme: Jacob Blessed Pharaoh

Vayigash, meaning “he approached,” introduces the dominant dynamic and tone of these four chapters of Genesis. Approaching and departing, gathering and separating recur throughout the parasha, leading towards the moment when the family of Jacob finally settles in Egypt.  

The haftarah, Ezekiel 37:15-28, addressing the exiles in Babylon in the sixth century BCE, symbolized the purpose of that same dynamic, in binding together as one, two sticks each bearing an inscription, “of Joseph” or “of Judah,” and declaring the divine promise, “I am going to gather the Israelites from every quarter and bring them to their own land” (37:21). Vayigash takes us back, about eleven centuries before Ezekiel, to the gathering of the family of Patriarch Jacob, when his son, Joseph, at 30 years of age, was vizier in charge of all of Egypt. Neither his brothers who had sold him to Midianites as a slave (according to one of the narratives), nor his grieving father, who was deceived (by his sons) into believing he was dead, knew what has become of him. 

As background to our parasha, famine in Canaan prompted Jacob to send his sons to the vizier of Egypt for provisions. As our parasha opens, the brothers are into their second visit to the palace, but this time, on the order of the vizier, Benjamin is with them, and Judah is pleading with the vizier to allow Benjamin to return to his father. Judah’s defense provides a review of the previous visit emphasizing the close relationship of their father to Benjamin, going so far as to claim that the failure of Benjamin to return would be the death of their father. Judah’s final desperate attempt is to offer himself as hostage, in place of Benjamin (44:33).

The vizier, overcome with emotion, discloses his identity: “I am Joseph, is my father still alive? … I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt” (45:3-4). Joseph’s perception of what had happened to him reveals a divine purpose: “It was not you who sent me here … God has sent me ahead of you … to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance” (45:7-8). Joseph impresses upon them the significance of his position in Egypt, from which they too can benefit (45:9, 13). He bestows on them generous gifts, for their father as well and then urges them to proceed quickly to Canaan and return with their father. The prospect of four more years of famine and Joseph’s pressing invitation for his father to come to Egypt (45:6-9) conspire to bring about their family’s migration to Goshen (46:6-7).   

Pharaoh emerges as sympathetic to and supportive of Joseph, recognizing in him “the spirit of God” (41:38-41), placing him in charge of his court, and establishing Joseph’s family in Egypt. Jacob, on the strength of his birthright, his father’s blessing, his own success as a rancher, and his peaceful resolution of relations with Laban and Esau, now meets Pharaoh, and blesses him (47:10). And so, “Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen … and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly” (47:27).

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How does the repetitive movement convey a sense of the vocation of this people during this period? 2. What do Canaan and Egypt each represent for the family of Jacob?

Bibliography: Plaut, W.G., Ed., The Torah, A Modern Commentary (New York, 1981); Scherman, R.N., Ed., Tanach, The Stone Edition, Mesorah Publications, (New York, 1998).

This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Diane Willey, nds, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna 2005, 2006

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