October 31, 2020 |

Parshat Vayigash: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice [All editorializing in brackets]

[A Parsha Walkthrough is a colloquial translation of the original, telling the story in modern English as closely as possible to the way it is told in the original Hebrew.]

[The brothers are desperate as Joseph has threatened to keep Benjamin as a slave and send the rest of them home.]

Judah approached Joseph and said:

“Please, sir, if I can say a few words without angering you. If you recall, you had asked us if we had a father or brother. And we told you that we had an aging father home with a young son whose brother had died, leaving him as the only son of his mother, and thus his father had a special love for him.

“You told us to bring him down so you could look at him. We said that he can’t leave his father, his father would die without him. And yet you insisted that we could not return without him.

“We told all this to our father upon our return, but in spite of that at some point he told us we needed to return. We reminded him that we could not return without our little brother. He told us: ‘You of course know that my wife had two sons. One of them left me and I assumed that he had been torn apart by wild animals, and I have not seen him since. If you take the other from me and tragedy strikes, you will push me to an early grave.’

“And now, when I return to my father without the boy, their souls are intertwined. When he sees that the boy is not with us he will die, and we will have been the ones to push him to an early grave. In fact, I gave my personal assurances to my father regarding the boy; he is my personal responsibility.”

“Let me stay in his place, “concluded Judah, “and the boy can go home with his brothers. Because how can I go back without the boy, and watch what will happen to my father?”

At this point, Joseph completely broke down, and shouted, “Clear everyone out of here!” (Not a soul was around when Joseph confessed to his brothers.) And he sobbed so loudly that all of Egypt heard his cry.

“I AM JOSEPH!” he told his brothers. “Is my father really still alive?”

The brothers could not even answer him, they were so shocked.

Joseph told his brothers to approach him, and they did. “I am your brother Joseph”, he tried again, “whom you sold into slavery. Do not be sad or angry about that, it was all part of a divine plan to provide food for you – and we’re only two years in so far. We have another five years in which there will be nothing to eat. You did not send me down here – God himself did this, and made me a ruler of all Egypt.

“Go quickly to my father, and tell him ‘We have a message from your son Joseph: God has made me lord over all Egypt, and you must hurry down here. You can live in Goshen, where you and the entire family and all your flocks will be close to me. I’ll be able to support you, as there are another five years of famine.’”

“I think you can see, and especially Benjamin can see, that it’s really me. Tell my father all of the honor that’s been bestowed on me here, and bring him back quickly.”

Joseph then fell on Benjamin and cried, as did Benjamin. Then he kissed each of his brothers and cried with them as well, and after that they spoke with him.

Meanwhile, word got out that Joseph’s brothers had come, and Pharaoh was pleased to hear. Pharaoh echoed Joseph’s invitation to bring the entire family and their property down to Egypt, where he would give them the best of the land.

So Pharaoh and Joseph gave the brothers wagons to carry their families back, as well as a few changes of clothing, and to Benjamin they gave three hundred silver coins and five changes of clothing. And he sent them off with food for his father as well as snacks for the way.

He sent them off with a warning: “Don’t fight on the way…”

So they left Egypt, and got to Canaan to their father Jacob.

They told him, “Joseph is still alive! And he is also ruler of all Egypt.”

And Jacob’s heart skipped a beat; he didn’t believe them.

But they continued to tell the whole story, and he saw the wagons that had been sent to bring the family down, and something deep inside him came back to life.

And Israel [Jacob] interrupted them: “Enough: Joseph is still alive. Let me go see him before I die.”

So Jacob picked up and left with everything he had, making a stop in Beer Sheva, where he sacrificed to his father’s God. [Building an altar and having a vision from God before leaving Canaan is something Jacob has gotten used to.] God appeared to him in a vision that night, and told him not to worry about going down to Egypt – he will become a nation there, God will go down with him and bring him back as well, and Joseph will take care of him.”

So Jacob and his sons, and their families, and the cattle and sheep and all of the property from Canaan all piled into the wagons from Pharaoh, and headed down to Egypt.

Each of the family members who goes down is named, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. On Leah’s side there were 33 men, on Zilpah’s there were 16 men, on Rachel’s 14 (10 of them Benjamin’s), and on Bilhah’s 7, in total 66 men who were descendants of Jacob. Adding in Jacob, Joseph, and his two sons, there were 70 men total.

Judah went ahead to navigate to Goshen, and when they arrived, Joseph came out to meet them. Joseph saw him and fell on him and wept more.

And Israel [Jacob] said to Joseph, “Now I can die, now that I’ve seen your face, now that I know you are still alive.”

Now Joseph said to the whole crew, “Here’s the story: I’m about to tell Pharaoh that my whole family has arrived, and that you are all shepherds, and you brought your flocks with you. Pharaoh will ask you what you do for a living – please confirm that you are and have always been shepherds. That will make him put you up on Goshen, since Egyptians hate all shepherds.” [might have been nice to know before they all packed up and moved down to Egypt…]

So this all played out as Joseph had hoped, and Pharaoh agrees to settle them in Goshen, and to even make one of them Chief Rancher in his court if they have military experience.

Then Joseph brings his father Jacob to Pharaoh, and Jacob blesses Pharaoh.

Pharaoh asks Jacob, “How old are you?”

Jacob: “I have been around for 130 years – they have been few and miserable, and my father and grandfather both lived longer.”

Then he blessed Pharaoh again and left.

Joseph set up a dedicated piece of land for the family in the best part of the land, in Raamses, as Pharaoh had decreed. And he provided food for his entire family based on how many children they had.

Meanwhile, there was no food in Egypt or Canaan. So first Joseph collected all the money in exchange for food, and brought it to Pharaoh. Then when there was no more money, the Egyptians came and offered their cattle in exchange for food. When Joseph had possessed all the animals in the name of Pharaoh, there was still no food, and the people said, “Why should we die of hunger – take our land and our very selves in exchange for food.”

And so Joseph took possession of all the land in Egypt in Pharaoh’s name, and moved the people to cities all over Egypt.

(The only land he did not buy belonged to the priests, who got a stipend from Pharaoh, and were able to eat from that.)

Joseph told the people, “As of today, I own both you and the land you’re on. Let’s do this: Continue to work your land. Whatever it yields, give one fifth to Pharaoh and the remaining four fifths will be for you and your families.”

“You have kept us alive!” they said, “May we continue to find favor with you, and we consider ourselves slaves to Pharaoh.”

So Joseph made it a law, which remains until today: A 20% tax on land to Pharaoh, except for the land of the priests.

And so Israel lived in Egypt, in Goshen, and they settled in and began to increase in number.


Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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