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

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph.  Is my father still alive?”  (Genesis 45:3)

Parashat Vayigash sees Joseph reveal himself to his brothers and reconciles with them.  Jacob comes down to Egypt and is reunited with his long-lost son as the entire family settles in Egypt.  The parasha (portion) describes the means by which Joseph consolidates power for Pharoah in the remaining five years of the drought, and in so doing, presents him as a new arch-type in the Torah.

Joseph is not considered a patriarch, like Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.  Nor is he considered a prophet, like Moses, Joshua, and all the rest.  Instead, Joseph is the first leader of a diaspora Jewish community and is the first “court Jew.”  Joseph’s ability to protect his family rests on his ability to negotiate the halls of power in Pharoah’s palace.  And, in fact, Joseph’s only goal seems to be to please his master, first Potiphar, and then Pharoah.  Joseph equates his accumulation of power with God’s will and tells his brothers not to fret over having sold him into slavery, since, “…God did send me here before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:7)

Yoram Hazony (Israeli political theorist and Founder and Provost of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem) reminds us that Joseph pursues power in Egypt for nine years before he realizes he could use it to save Jews.  And while becoming ever closer with Egyptian society (he shaves, adopts an Egyptian name, wears Egyptian clothes, rides a chariot, and marries the daughter of the Egyptian high priest) Joseph is disconnected from the Jewish people.  Does that mean it is always God’s will to pursue power?  And does it mean that strengthening Egypt was doing God’s work? It turns out that that power, in and of itself, does not guarantee freedom, but Joseph learns that only in next week’s parasha.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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