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Dan Has Questions About Families, Family Reunions, and How To Handle A Famine:  Parshat Vayigash

12/09/2021 10:49:54 AM


Dan Leemon

 Last week’s Parshah was what is called a “cliff-hanger”:  We left Joseph still not telling his brothers who he really is, and making it look as though his younger brother, Benjamin, is a thief and will therefore be held in Egypt.  This week’s Parshah, Vayigash, picks up right in the middle of the story:  Vayigash means “and he approached”, as Judah, one of Joseph’s older brothers, approaches Joseph and pleads with him to keep him prisoner instead of Benjamin, so Benjamin can return to Canaan with the other brothers.  Judah explains that Benjamin is the only remaining son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, who is dead, and that if they do not return with Benjamin, Jacob will die of grief.  You may recall that Judah is the one who convinced the brothers to keep Joseph alive and sell him into slavery rather than kill him.

-       What does this tell you about the kind of person Judah is?

-       If you were Judah in these situations – earlier with your brothers wanting to kill Joseph, now dealing with the possibility of having to leave Benjamin behind – what would you have done?

 Joseph can stand it no longer, and tells his brothers who he is.  He tells them not to be afraid, that God has made him ruler of Egypt alongside Pharaoh, so he is not angry with them.

-       What might the brothers have been afraid of?

-       Why does Joseph forgive them?

-       Could you have forgiven them if you were Joseph?

Joseph sees that his brothers have compassion for their father and for their youngest brother.   Joseph tells them he can give them land (the land of Goshen), that God has put him in a position of being able to provide them with food and land, and tells them to go back to Canaan and bring back their families and their father so they can be near him and not starving in Canaan.  You may recall that Joseph once dreamed that he would rule over his brothers, and that this dream made them so angry they almost killed him.

-       How do you think the brothers react to Joseph saying that God put him in his position so he can take care of them?

-       How do you think Joseph feels about being able to provide them with food and land?

-       What has changed in the brothers’ relationship with and feelings toward Joseph, and why?

 Joseph hugs and kisses his brothers, especially Benjamin, and cries from joy.  Pharaoh overhears that Joseph’s brothers have arrived, and repeats what Joseph has said – that they should go quickly back to Canaan and bring their father, their families, their flocks, and all their possessions back with them.  Pharaoh even gives them donkeys, wagons, food, changes of clothes, and, to Benjamin, 300 pieces of silver.

-       Why do you think Pharaoh is being so nice to Joseph’s family?

So the brothers go back to Canaan and tell Jacob that Joseph is alive and well and practically running Egypt.  Jacob is relieved – the Torah says his spirit is revived.  Jacob, Joseph’s brothers, Dinah, their sister, and all their families journey to Egypt, and along the way, Jacob has a dream (just in case you thought we were done with all the dreaming that started the story of this family in the first place).  In the dream, God tells Jacob to go ahead to Egypt, that God will make his descendants into a great nation there.  God says God promises to go with them to Egypt and one day bring them back to Canaan (although God leaves out the part about how they will be there for hundreds of years, become slaves, and forget about God). 

-       Why does God need to say all this to Jacob? 

Jacob arrives in Egypt and has an emotional, joyful, and tearful reunion with his father.

-       How do you imagine Joseph and Jacob were feeling at this moment?

Pharaoh tells Joseph they may indeed all settle in Goshen, and this is “the best of the land”.  Jacob meets Pharaoh, who welcomes him, and Jacob blesses Pharaoh. 

 At the end of the Parshah, we return to the story of the five remaining years of famine in Egypt.  Remember that Joseph made sure that plenty of food had been stored up over the prior seven years of plenty.  Now Joseph sells this food to the Egyptian people:  first for all the money they have, which he gives to Pharaoh; then for all their livestock – cattle, sheep, goats, cows; then, when they are all out of money and livestock, Joseph buys all their farmland and gives it to Pharaoh.  He tells them they can continue to farm the land but must give one-fifth of all that they grow to Pharaoh.

-       Why do you think Joseph has gathered all this wealth – money, livestock, land – for Pharaoh?  Why not just give the people the food they need during the famine?

-       If you were one of the Egyptian people, how would you feel about having to pay all your money and possessions in exchange for food?

-       Do you think this was a smart strategy on Joseph’s part?

Over the winter break, we will finish reading the book of Bereisheet, and begin the book of Shemot (Exodus), where we will learn about the long-term effects of Jacob’s family moving to Egypt and Joseph demanding everything the people have in exchange for food during the famine.

The book of Bereisheet began with the creation of the world and told us the stories of Adam and Eve defying God and eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, and the survival of a great flood by Noah and his family.  Bereisheet teaches of us of our ancestors, the first Jews, Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, and Leah, Rachel, and Jacob: how they listened to, were blessed by, and sometimes argued with God; how they struggled (especially the siblings — Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob, and Joseph’s 11 brothers and one sister), and how they ultimately reconciled and prospered.  Think back on all these people, including Joseph and his siblings, and all these stories:

-           Which one story or person most stands out in your memory, and why?

-           If you had to be one of the people we have read about, which one would it have been and why?

-           Who would you least like to be, and why?

-           Can you think of three lessons this book has taught you, or that you hope it has taught other people?


Shabbat shalom, have a good (and safe) break, and happy new year — 



Mon, August 15 2022 18 Av 5782