Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Walk Article

HAVE NO FEAR, ANYWHERE

Vayigash-5778

Rabbi David Walk


The roller coaster ride which is Ya'akov Avinu's life resumes this week. Although the headlines from this week's Torah reading could read 'Titans Clash', describing the confrontation between Yosef and Yehuda, one can't help but sympathize with our grandfather, Yisrael saba, for the conflicting emotions he seems to be experiencing. He had already told his sons (Genesis 37:35) that he would 'go to his grave still mourning for his son.' Yet this week we read that when he received the news that od yosef chai ('Yosef still lives', 45:26), the shock is so great that Ya'akov seems to suffer a mini heart attack (vayafeg libo). Although he recovers enough to declare his intention of travelling to Egypt to see Yosef before he dies, nevertheless God deemed it necessary to encourage and reassure him as he sets out. This week let's explore the warring emotions within our alter zeidie.

Allow me to begin with a technical point, which ends up being quite poignant. When God calls to Ya'akov before promising Divine guidance for the descent to Egypt, Ya'akov responds, 'Hineini!' We've seen this expression before. Adam said it after the sin, Avraham said it during the Akeida (3x), Ya'akov said it when called by God in Padan Aram, Yosef said it when asked to check on his brothers in Shechem. It accompanies a resolve to fulfill a crucial yet difficult assignment. Hineini means I'm ready to answer the call, despite the danger. Ya'akov's response demonstrates his recognition that this trip is significant beyond the family dynamic. This trip is required for him to fulfill his destiny (Please, forgive me. I couldn't resist using that phrase because the new Star Wars movie just came out.), and that of the nation. Listen to God's response: I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up, and Joseph will place his hand on your eyes (46:3-4). This is beautiful. All prophecies will be fulfilled and his beloved Yosef will be there at his side. But, wait, who said anything about being afraid? Ya'akov said hineini!, does that imply fear? However, fear there must have been, because God instructs him to not be afraid.

Therefore, there are two questions which must be asked. Why did Ya'akov have a minor heart attack when told that Yosef was still alive? And why was he obviously afraid to go down to  

Egypt even though he had already expressed resolve about seeing his beloved Yosef before he died?

About the minor heart event, you could say that he didn't believe the news, and was holding his breath awaiting confirmation. Concerning the fear of travelling to Egypt, first of all travel was always dangerous in the ancient world, now it's, generally, just annoying. Also, there could be the fear of leaving eretz yisrael. The Ramban suggests that his fear was based on historical awareness that his descendants would suffer as slaves in Egypt the 'land which was not theirs' referred to in Brit Bein Habitarim (15:13). But I'd like to suggest that both of these questions demand a single answer.

I hate to sound like Col. Nathan Jessup, Jack Nicholson's role from A Few Good Men, but he was afraid of the truth. Actually, that's how Rashi interprets vayafeg libo, which I translated as a minor heart attack. Rashi says, 'He changed his heart to depart from believing. His heart didn't dwell on these things (45:26).' Rashi then gives a couple of examples of the root yod pei gimel, which he avers means 'to change'. But what 'things' doesn't Ya'akov want to change? I think that Ya'akov didn't want to 'dwell' on the circumstances surrounding Yosef's disappearance. I believe part of him wanted to leave well enough alone. He didn't want to change the brothers' false account of Yosef's disappearance.

When did Father Ya'akov first suspect the truth? For how long had had he harbored these doubts? I don't know. Could the shepherd Ya'akov have recognized the difference between human blood and goat's blood? Maybe. Or perhaps, with those momentous words od yosef chai he put the facts together. If Yosef was still alive, then it wasn't his blood on the technical dream-coat. And did he feel guilty about sending Yosef into harm's way? Again, I don't know.

Here's what I do know. The Torah never mentions that sale of Yosef again. At some point, Ya'akov put two and two together, but after God instructs him not to be afraid of going down to Egypt for a family reunion, the brothers' feud must be over, and recriminations are gone. However not forgotten. Apparently, not a word is spoken about the incident. When Ya'akov is dead and buried the brothers turn to Yosef and lie: Your father commanded us before his death, saying, so shall you say to Joseph, 'Please, forgive your brothers' transgression and

their sin, for they did evil to you. Now please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father (50:16-17).' The brothers assumed that a day of reckoning would eventually come, but not while Abba lived. The unspoken reality was that Dad had figured it out. The cloud hanging over the whole clan was the guilt, shame and recrimination from that heinous deed perpetrated decades earlier.

Now, I believe we can fathom the mixed emotions swirling within our Patriach. He craved the opportunity to see Yosef; he dreaded a renewal of the feud between the brothers. Ya'akov lived through a similar episode with his own brother, and they never met again. He didn't want that with his own children. These twelve brothers put aside their animosity to become a family, and that unity survived Ya'akov's death. I'm not sure that I recommend their pact of silence, but it worked for them. And Ya'akov could make the journey, because of God's reassurance. May all our families find ways to overcome animosities.



1 comment:

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