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

“Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now I can die, after my having
seen your face, because you are still alive.’” (Genesis 46:30)

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. Jacob and Joseph are reunited, finally. Before the brothers leave, though, Joseph admonishes them, “…al tirg’zu baderech, do not be troubled along the way.” (Gen. 45:24) If everything has been resolved, what is Joseph worried about?

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) offers three possibilities. The simplest explanation is Joseph doesn’t want the brothers arguing over who’s to blame for selling him (Joseph) into slavery. But Joseph may be warning them to not take too-large steps (i.e., don’t travel too fast) because that is damaging to one’s health (Breishit Rabah 94:2). Or Joseph is concerned they will get wrapped up in debate over “The Way”, which in rabbinic thought means halacha, or Jewish law, become distracted, and get lost (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 10b).

Rabbi Pinchas Peli (1930-1989; professor of Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) offers an interesting twist on this last possibility. Joseph understands the human tendency to rationalize and look for justification. So he worries the brothers might study halacha on the road to Canaan in order to find some ruling–any ruling!–supporting their having sold him into slavery for being obnoxious. Joseph doesn’t want his brothers to become “scoundrels within the Torah,” meaning, immoral people who haven’t broken the law, technically (Nachmanides on Lev. 19:2). Joseph knows God’s command “You shall be holy…” (Lev. 19:2) isn’t about following halacha, it’s about fulfilling halacha.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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