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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Back Together? - Parshat Vayigash

So Yosef finally comes clean and reveals himself to the brothers but only after pushing them, or at least Yehuda, to take responsibility for their youngest brother Benyamin even to the point of volunteering to set himself into slavery rather than break his promise to Yaakov his father to return his youngest safe and sound.

The first word of the Parsha ויגש "vayigash" (and he approached or came near) sets the stage for Yehuda showing both his willingness to take responsibility but perhaps also exhibiting a certain boldness in approaching this viceroy without being summoned forth specifically.

We see the same word used just a little later when Yosef reveals himself:

בראשית פרק מה

(ג) וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו:
(ד) וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי מִצְרָיְמָה

Genesis 45

(3) And Yosef said to his brothers, "I am Yosef--is my father still alive?" And the brothers could not reply to him for they were frightened before him. [literally: they were frightened of his face] (4) And Yosef said to his brothers, "Please come near (גשו) to me." And they came near. And Yosef said, "I am Yosef your brother whom you sold (down) to Egypt." 

Here the drawing near of the brothers seems to be a demonstration of wanting greater intimacy. Certainly, it was not what the brothers were expecting. It may also be, then, that Yehuda came closer to begin with to try to strike a greater intimacy when he pled his case.

I finid it interesting that Yosef is quick to explain to the brothers that it was not their doing that brought him to Egypt but rather it was God's plan:

ה) וְעַתָּה אַל תֵּעָצְבוּ וְאַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם:

(5) And now do not be sad and do not become upset in your eyes that you sold me down to here, for God has sent me before you for (the sake of) sustenance.

Yosef continues to lay out the intelligence he was privy to regarding the famine. He goes on to tell them they should all move down to Egypt. 

But here again one could ask why didn't Yosef send them back and simply promise to send them food back in Canaan? 

Yosef at this point sees his plan working very well. He was able to provoke genuine remorse in the brothers for what they did to him but does not lord it over them. He does really see that his purpose there is to sustain them during the coming years of famine. 

Ironically, I think, Yosef seems to be unaware of what Yaakov comes to see as the larger plan, namely the beginning of the galut, the diaspora. More about that tomorrow.


  1. I think Yosef is quick to put the blame on God, so to speak, because he has come to be an astute enough observer of human nature to know that people who feel excessive amounts of guilt and shame can do stupid things to hide from it. Like maybe just running out and not taking the food back home.

    I don't think God really had the brothers sell Yosef in order to save them in the famine. If we believe that, then we have to believe God is just a puppeteer and we're the puppets. What happens to free will?

  2. I think your first point is at least partly correct. That is, Yosef does not come to beat up on the brothers for what they did because he knows it may yield a poor response.

    However, I believe that Yosef also genuinely believed and understood that his coming to Egypt as he did was really part of a Divine plan.

    As far as the puppet theory: This raises a much larger issue about the nature of prophecy, God's knowledge and free will. Approaching an understanding of this problem is not within the scope of this current posting! However, I think we will touch on it in various places as we proceed in future parshas.