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

“I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back;
and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:4).

Jews throughout history have navigated life between two Biblical mandates: to go out into the world to be a blessing and a light unto the nations (Gen. 12:2 and Is. 42:6), or to be a nation fated to dwell apart (Num. 23:9). Parashat Vayigash offers an insight into the relationship between those seeming opposites.

After Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, they reconcile and return to Canaan to bring Jacob, their father, and the rest of the family down to Egypt. 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). If we know the clan settles in Egypt, why does Vayigash need to specify Goshen?”

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893; head of the great Volozhin Yeshiva in Lithuania)
says Joseph sends his family there to isolate it and protect it from the influence of Egyptian culture; Goshen is the first Jewish ghetto (a nation apart). Rabbi Isaiah ben Abraham (~1565-1630; Kabbalist and head of the Frankfurt Jewish court), suggests Judah goes to Goshen to set up a house of study. Now Goshen becomes the launching pad for engagement with the larger world (a light unto the nations).

The ability to engage with the world requires a secure attachment to a home base. Rootedness in your own story allows you to assume a role in someone else’s. That “safe haven” may be geographical, intellectual, spiritual, or all of the above. Goshen, a place to be apart, becomes the source of energy to go light up the world.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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