Parashat Vayigash

Learning from our mistakes!

Could there be a greater turn of events than that played out in our Parsha?

In an instant everything changes and the brothers’ tormentor reveals himself to be none other than Yosef, their sibling they had sold into slavery all those years ago.  The brothers are left totally dumbfounded, unable to utter a single word in response.Talmud tells us that this episode provides an absolutely crucial message. If the brothers were so devastated by the rebuke of Yosef, one can only imagine the utter trauma that one will feel when confronted by the Creator in our day of final reckoning.  The perplexing thing about this statement is that in none of the words of Yosef do we find an actual rebuke.  He merely reveals his true identity.

Reb Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l uses this to reveal an important truth about the nature of the admonition we will ultimately face.  It is not a process in which we are reproached for our misdeeds; rather we are simply shown the mistake that we have made, which consequently enables us to recognize how foolish we were to have done wrong.  Yosef had told his brothers that one day he would rule over them, for which they had deemed him worthy of being sold.  In one foul swoop Yosef exposed their actions for what they were and demonstrated how wrong they had been.

This is what we will all one day face.  Not a fresh revelation of the tragedy of the acts we performed but a sharp blast of reality, involving all the errors of judgment we have made. The sad truth is that if we would step back and examine much of our life as we lived it we would often see the folly of our actions.  The goals we hoped to achieve, the people we sought to impress, the pleasures we thought would bring us satisfaction. How many of them have actually led to the outcomes we so desired? How many of those outcomes are actually of any true worth? And yet we don’t learn from our mistakes.  We just persist in making them. Let’s not wait to the final day of judgment to receive our rebuke when we can face up to it now. It will not be things that we did not know.  It will be things we knew all too well but chose to ignore for momentary gratification or a fleeting diversion.  To err is human, but it is often a choice we make and not one we are compelled to do.  Mistakes can be the making of you, as long as you learn from them before it’s too late.

May Shabbat awaken our souls to learn from the past and prepare for the future.

facts of life: take this serious

Existence of Yaakov’s family

The last section of this week’s Parasha deals with events surrounding Yaakov’s arrival in Egypt.  The order of these events is as follows:

Pharaoh meets Yosef’s brothers and he asks them the nature of their occupation and gives them the land of Goshen, then Yaakov meets Pharaoh and gives him a blessing.  The Torah then relates that Yosef helps his family to settle in Goshen and provides for their needs.  The Torah turns from the subject of Yaakov’s arrival in Egypt and deals with the plight of the Egyptians during the years of the famine. The inhabitants of Egypt are starving and are forced to give their money, livestock and land and then finally themselves to Pharaoh in order to obtain food.  Yosef having acquired ownership of the land of Egypt for Pharaoh ultimately relocates the inhabitants of the land to different districts of Egypt and a tax is imposed upon their farm production.  All Egyptians are included in the upheaval except for the priests who were exempt from repopulation and the tax charge.

The final verse of the Parasha states that “Israel settled in the land of Egypt”

At the beginning  it is explained that Yosef’s brothers only intended to stay temporarily  in Egypt.  “We have come to sojourn in the land” they said.  Yet the Parasha concludes “Israel settled in Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they took possession of it and they multiplied in number”.  It appears that at some stage they re‑evaluated their position in the land and decided to stay.  Does the Torah explain the reason for this change of heart?

Furthermore the subject order of the section appears puzzling in that while relating how Yaakov came to the land of Egypt and settled in the land of Goshen, the Torah deviates from the narration of this subject and explains how the Egyptians pleaded for food and then the Torah returns to the narration “and Israel settled in the land of Goshen”.  Also the Torah repeats the fact that the land belonging to the priests was not taken by Pharaoh, and in consequence, they were not required to pay taxes to Pharaoh.

Why does the Torah emphasize this fact?”

The 20th century scholar Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, provides a perspective on this section which answers these questions.  His explanation is based on the fact that this section cannot be perceived as a mere historical account of the events of the famine years in Egypt.  Rather, in his opinion, the Torah relates the strategies adopted by Yosef in order to preserve the unique stature of his family as the true servants of G‑d.  He intended to maintain the cultural divide between the family of Israel and the other nations. He explains that Yaakov was initially reluctant to go to Egypt and in fact asked permission from G‑d before going there .  He feared that the environment of Egypt would prove permanently detrimental to his family.  The immorality and the idolatrous ideology of the Egyptians threatened the very existence of Yaakov’s family on a spiritual level.

Yosef, therefore, adopted a strategy which would preserve the unique spiritual qualities of his family throughout the turbulent years of their stay in Egypt.  He transferred the whole population in order that his brothers should not feel as strangers in the land if they perceived themselves as being inferior to their neighbors.  If they would feel at least equal to Egyptian population they would be less likely to assimilate.

Moreover he set a precedent by absolving the priests from giving their land to Pharaoh.  The priests represented the religious element of the community and they held an exalted position.  He impressed upon his own family and the entire population of Egypt the importance of respecting religion and its officials.

The Levites were the spiritual representatives of Yaakov’s family and were also respected.  This ensured that the Levites did not have to serve Pharaoh during the 210 years of Egyptian slavery.  This most likely proved to be the factor which preserved the identity of Yaakov’s family.  Rabbi Baruch Ha‑Levi Epstein  also makes the point that it is from the fact that the land of the priests was not taken away, demonstrating respect for the clergy, which provided the Levites exemption from the Egyptian slavery.  He explains that they were able to continue the traditional service of G‑d and make an impression on others and teach them how to serve G‑d.  They did this at the incident of the Golden calf and of the evil report of the Twelve spies.

Thus the passage is consistent, containing one theme how Yosef helped to settle his family in the land of Goshen.  They only agreed to remain there when they saw that Yosef had constructed a society which could contain their own ideals of service to G‑d.  We learn from the efforts made by Yosef to enable his family to maintain their service of G‑d, firstly the importance of ensuring that in our community there are talmidei chachamim ‑ Torah scholars.  This idea is stated by the 12th century scholar Rabbi Judah He‑Hasid in his Sefer Hasidim.  He asks why should the fate of the Egyptian priests be of interest too us?  He explains that the Torah records this in order that we recognize the importance of the religious scholar and the need to support him.  And secondly, that if we are to maintain the religiousness of the Jewish community then these scholars must impart their knowledge and ideals.  Yosef recognized that education was the source of continuity, it is the only way we can survive.

Parsha Summary


First Aliyah: In the end of last week’s Torah reading, Yosef demanded that Benyamin remain behind in Egypt as his slave. This week’s reading opens with Yehuda approaching Yosef and appealed to him to allow Benyamin to return to his father Yaakov in Canaan. He spoke of Yaakov’s reluctance to allow Benyamin – Rachel’s only remaining child – to make the trip to Egypt, and the great love Yaakov harbored for his youngest son.

Second Aliyah: Yehuda continued: “When [Yaakov] sees that the boy is gone, he will die.” He explained to Yosef that he, Yehuda, had taken personal responsibility that Benyamin would return unharmed to Canaan. And as such, he asked to remain as a slave instead of Benyamin. At that point, Yosef could not restrain himself any longer. He asked all the Egyptians present to leave the room, and he revealed his identity to his brothers: “I am Yosef! Is my father still alive?!” He then reassured them, and asked them not to be upset about selling him into slavery: “For it was to preserve life that G‑d sent me before you. For . . . another five years there will be neither plowing nor harvest, and G‑d sent me before you to ensure your survival in the land…”

Third Aliyah: Yosef directed his brothers to quickly return to Canaan and bring Yaakov and their families back to Egypt, where Yosef promised to provide them with food until the famine ends. Yosef embraced his brothers and cried. Pharaoh was informed that Yosef’s family had arrived, and he, too, instructed them to come to Egypt where he would give them the “best of the land.” The brothers went to Canaan – laden with gifts from Pharaoh and Yosef – and informed Yaakov that Yosef was alive, indeed he ruled over all of Egypt. “And the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.”

Fourth Aliyah: Yaakov and his entire family left Canaan and headed to Egypt. En route they stopped in Beersheba, where G‑d told Yaakov not to fear going to Egypt, for it is there that he will be made into a great nation. Furthermore G‑d told him: “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up.”

Fifth Aliyah: This section names the seventy members of Yaakov’s family that went to Egypt.

Sixth Aliyah: Yaakov arrived in Egypt, to the province of Goshen that Pharaoh had allotted his family. Yosef went there to greet his father. Yosef prepared his family for meeting Pharaoh, and instructed his brothers to tell Pharaoh that they are shepherds, who only wish to tend to their flocks in Goshen until the famine ends. Indeed the brothers followed this script, and Pharaoh acceded to their request. Yaakov was then brought before Pharaoh, and Yaakov blessed him.

Seventh Aliyah: While Yosef supplied his family with food, the rest of Egypt was in a desperate plight. First they expended all their money in exchange for food that Yosef sold them. Then their money ran out, and they paid for provisions with their cattle. Finally, when they had no money or chattel left, they sold their land and themselves to Pharaoh into servitude in exchange for provisions. Meanwhile, in the land of Goshen, Yaakov’s family prospered and multiplied exceedingly.

something to think about

He sent Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen.

Rashi teaches that Yaakov Avinu dispatched Yehuda on a mission to Egypt for more than merely making arrangements for the family’s arrival. The Midrash interprets l’horot as “to teach.” This implies that Yaakov sent Yehuda to establish the first yeshiva in Egypt. The “yeshiva Gedolah of Goshen” set a precedent for all time. Torah education must be a community’s priority number one. A city without a makom Torah – place where Torah is studied lacks the most critical component of its Jewishness. A Jewish community without a makom Torah is not Jewish! Harav Moshe Yaakov Ribicov, ZT”L, popularly known as the Sandlor – Shoemaker derives another lesson from Yaakov. Every activity or Endeavour that a person takes on must be focused on Torah. “What will this Endeavour do for Torah?” should be one’s primary question. If the Torah component is not integral to the Endeavour, the entire Endeavour is lacking. This may be compared to one who is building a house. Before beginning the project, he should imagine where he will place his study room for Torah study, prayer and solitude for spiritual seclusion. This room, which will be used primarily for spiritual purposes, should take precedence in his house. Everything else should fit in around his study. The place for development in Torah has primary significance. When one prioritizes the Torah in his every daily Endeavour, he elevates his life from the mundane to the spiritual. This is the meaning of focused Jewish living.

Chazal teach that Yaakov Avinu sent Yehuda to Goshen for the purpose of establishing the first yeshiva, from whence Torah and its teachings would be disseminated. Why did Yaakov choose Yehuda over any of the other brothers, especially Yissachar, who was the paradigm of Torah study and scholarship? The Midrash Tanchuma teaches a novel idea to explain why Yaakov made this choice. Apparently, for years, ever since the disappearance of Yosef, when Yehuda was the one who presented Yosef’s bloodied tunic, the Patriarch had suspected Yehuda of culpability in (what he believed to be) Yosef’s death. Now that he heard that Yosef was indeed, alive and serving as viceroy in Egypt, Yaakov felt he had wrongly excoriated Yehuda. Thus, as a form of appeasement, he sent Yehuda to establish the yeshiva in Goshen. The Midrash continues, presenting Hashem’s conversation with Yehuda, “You aggrieved your father, making him think that his son was torn by a wild animal. By your life, you will know the pain of losing children.” Furthermore, the brothers demoted Yehuda from his position of leadership over them because he did not follow through on the plan which he had initiated. So, between Yaakov’s suspicions of Yehuda and his brothers demoting him, the once proud leader, the “lion” of the shevatim – tribes was going through a woeful period in his life. When Yaakov observed Yehuda’s willingness to sacrifice his life on behalf of Binyamin and later discovered the truth that Yosef was alive, he sent Yehuda to Goshen to represent the family in building a house of Torah study.

simcha corner

“Oh God,” sighed the wife one morning, “I’m convinced my mind is almost completely gone!”

Her husband looked up from the newspaper and commented, “I’m not surprised: You’ve been giving me a piece of it every day for twenty years!”


The cop got out of his car and the kid, that was stopped for speeding, rolled down his window.

“I’ve been waiting for you all day,” the cop said.

The guy replied, “Yeah, well I got here as fast as I could.” When the cop finally stopped laughing, he sent the kid on his way without a ticket.