“Joseph sustained his father, and his brothers, and all his
father’s household with bread, down to the little ones.” (Gen. 47:12)
Parashat Vayigash contains the denouement to the Joseph saga: Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, they reconcile and return to Canaan to bring Jacob and the rest of the family down to Egypt, and Joseph and Jacob are reunited. The parasha (portion) ends by stating, “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). This verse offers an insight in how the Children of Israel grow to become the People of Israel.
While the English seems clear and consistent, the Hebrew isn’t. The verse begins in the singular (vayeshev Yisrael…) but continues in the plural (…vayei-achzu ba vayifru vayirbu m’od). Nahum Sarna (1923–2005; modern Biblical scholar) interprets the first verb to refer to Israel (Jacob) himself while the last three verbs refer to all the family members. Israel (Jacob), for the first time, accepts the fulfillment of God’s promise and sees himself as not merely the father of a family, but as the father of a people. His individual identity merges with the identity of the people.
The notion of peoplehood relies on individuals feeling connected not only to other individuals, but also to the shared collective. Thus, belonging implies identification with: I share something with you because we both recognize and accept the group’s history, wisdom, values, and identity as our own (at least in part). The PEW report indicates 75% of American Jews feel a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. JCCs aim to push that number even higher.