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Parashat Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

“Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly.” (Gen. 47:27)

Parashat Vayigash describes Joseph’s emotional reconciliation with his brothers who then return to Canaan to bring Jacob and the rest of the family down to Egypt.  Jacob is overjoyed to learn Joseph is still alive and sets off to reunite the family.  But Jacob does something curious:  instead of taking the most direct route to Egypt, he detours through Beer Sheva.  Why?

S’forno (1470-1550; Italian rabbi, philosopher, and physician) claims Jacob is hesitant to leave Canaan again (remember, it took him twenty years to get back the first time).  He goes to Beer Sheva to pray at the altar Isaac had built to receive God’s assurance all would be well.   Rabbi Yakov Kamenesky (1896-1981; prominent Talmudist in post-World War II America) goes farther.  He claims Jacob worries his children will become too comfortable in Egypt and will assimilate.  So he goes to Beer Sheva, cuts down the trees Abraham planted there two generations earlier, and brings them to Egypt.  Throughout the generations of slavery to come, the trees are reminders of the connection to the land and symbols of God’s promise to return the people to the land.  Moses takes them from Egypt during the Exodus and builds the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert with them (Breishit Rabbah 94:4).

JCCs are as serious today about maintaining a connection with Israel as Jacob is in Vayigash.  That is why our fifth principle states, “Israel is an eternal birthright of the Jewish people, linking us to our past and to Jews around the world today.”

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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