Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Parshat VaYigash

Yaakov's Fear

Yaakov had been depressed and living a life a turmoil for 22 years, believing that Yoseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Suddenly, he discovers that "Yoseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die" (Bereshit 45:28) and "the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived" (ibid 27).

He immediately sets off towards Egypt, but first makes a stop in Be'er Shev, where "he slaughtered sacrifices to the God of his father Yitschak" (ibid 46:1). There God said to him: "Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation" (ibid 2).

From these words it was clear that Yaakov was afraid to go to Egypt. Why was Yaakov afraid?

In order to answer this question, we must first ask another two questions. Fistly, why did Yaakov go to Be'er Sheva? Secondly, why did he make sacrifices to the God of his father, Yitschak and not the God of Avraham? Obviously the God of Yitschak is the same as the God of Yaakov, and therefore practically speaking, Yaakov was also worshipping the God of Avraham. However, why does the Torah limit God's title to simply that of Yitschak?

We must remember that this was not the first time that there was a famine in Canaan and that the Patriarchs wanted to go to Egypt.

Firstly with Avraham: "There was a famine in the land, and Avram descended to Egypt to sojourn there because the famine was severe in the land" (ibid 12:10).

Then with Yitschak: "There was a famine in the land, aside from the first famine that had been in the days of Avraham…The Lord appeared to him (Yitschak), and said, 'Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell you'" (ibid 26:1-2).

Avraham went to Egypt because of famine. Yitschak wanted to go to Egypt, because of famine, but God told him not to.

Yaakov is troubled. He is suffering from famine, Yoseph his beloved son, is offering him salvation in Egypt. Should he be like Avraham and go, or should he be like Yitschak and stay?

Moreover, he knows what it means to leave home. Yaakov left Canaan for Padan Aram for what he thought would have been a short period, ("you shall dwell with him for a few days until your brother's wrath has subsided – ibid 27:44), but ended up being there for over twenty years. He is now an old man and knows that if he goes down to Egypt, he and possibly his whole family may never return. Can he really go to Egypt?

To answer that question he cannot ask the God of Avraham, as He permitted Avraham to go to Egypt. He must ask the God of Yitschak, the one who forbade him to go.

More than that, he goes to Beer Sheva, the place where God had appeared to Yitschak and said: "Do not go down to Egypt."

There, at that same place, that same God, answers Yaakov's fear and promises him: "there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up" (ibid 46:3-4).

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat VaYigash entitled: "The Descent to Egypt" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYigash entitled: "The Saving of Egypt " appears at

A further Sedra Short entitled "Confrontation and Reconciliation" appears at

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