Friday, December 25, 2009

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va'yigash - B'resheet (Genesis) 44:18-47:28

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’yigash – B’resheet (Genesis): 44:18-47:28

Each of the weekly Parashot presents a narrative that tells a story of individuals (and later of much larger groups), describing their fortunes and misfortunes, travels and battles, struggles and learning situations, instructions for living (the ‘Torah’) - and much more - which in one way or another relate to the Elohim of Yisrael. No doubt, there is a great deal to be gleaned from these stories, as indeed we do. Yet, an even more careful examination will reveal facts beyond ‘mere’ object lessons or annals of the past. These episodes that occurred so long ago are found to be still relevant to today's world situations and circumstances! And what's more, they have a bearing on our very own lives. This thread of continuity, which ties the biblical characters, their decisions and responses to YHVH – indeed, their very lives - to ours, is what makes the Parashot so exciting and important.

With this in mind, we approach Parashat Va'yigash. “Va’yigash” means, "and he approached" or "drew near" and originates from the root (noon, gimmel, shin). At the outset of the Parasha we see Yehuda "drawing near" to Yoseph. Although in his blindness Yehuda does not recognize his brother, his new 'approach' (after having passed his tests) actually enables him to draw closer to his sibling, albeit, as mentioned, unawares. As we saw at the end of last week's Parasha, Yehuda has been reformed through some reflection and repentance. This, as well as some of his other traits, to be discussed later, should inspire us with hope and anticipation regarding his descendants, who are destined to follow in the footsteps of their progenitor. Some day, they too will draw near to their long-lost, hidden brother; not only from amongst the descendants of Yoseph, but also to their greater Brother, Yeshua (Zech. 12:10-13:2).

The words of this ‘greater Brother’ take on a special meaning in the context of this story, a story that may be viewed as a prophetic pattern relating to the collective destiny of Yehuda. Thus, Yeshua’s words of truth, "no man can come to [the Son], except the Father… draw him" (John 6:44), lend an added dimension to the first 16 verses of the Parasha (Gen. 44: 18-34 - Yehuda's monologue), where father is mentioned no less than 14 times. Surely this emphasis on ‘father’ represents and alludes to another glimmer of hope for the progeny of Yehuda, in their tight adherence to the Heavenly Father.

Yehuda's oft repeated "eved - servant” (or literally “slave”), singular and plural, is indicative of the fact that Yoseph's dreams are being fulfilled. But it also clearly foreshadows Yehuda's future attitude toward his Master and Messiah. Following Yoseph's disclosure of his identity, he beckons his brothers to come near to him - "g'shu" - of the same root as “va’yigash,” and they respond by “drawing near” (45:4).

In recent Parashot (‘Parashas’) we have been following Yehuda's process of learning about redemption. We have been looking at the term "arov," which is “guarantee” or “surety.” In his monologue addressing Yoseph and presenting the case of Binyamin, Yehuda says: "For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, `If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father forever'" (44:32 emphasis added). Among the many words derived from the root a.r.v (ayin, resh, vet), we also find “pleasant” – “arev,” as in…” Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me…He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi… then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing – “arva” - to YHVH" (Mal. 3:1, 3, 4, italics added). We see here a sequence of events, at the end of which Yehuda's offering is found to be pleasant in YHVH's eyes. Yehuda's treatment of his brother Binyamin in this Parasha, and the "eravon" (guarantee) that he is so faithful to keep, surely pleases the Heavenly Father and speaks of a future day, when Yehuda’s house will do so corporately. “Drawing near” and “pledge” meet in a prophetic scripture penned by Yimiyahu (Jeremiah), describing a day when Ya’acov’s tents will be restored (ref. 30:18), and when a Ruler of greater and nobler stature will come forth from the midst of the nation. “He will draw close – “ve’nigash” – to Me, for who is he who would pledge – “ve’arav” – his heart to draw close – “lageshet” – to Me, says YHVH” (30:21 italics added). It is no coincidence that these specific terms are strung together so many centuries later, when reference is made to Yehuda’s greater Son, thus illustrating that the life of the ancient forefather exemplifies what manifested fully in Yeshua, and is also to be experienced by his (Yehuda’s) progeny in the future.

In this second journey to Egypt, Yehuda acs (as he did previously) as the spokesperson for his brethren, the one leading the way. It is only after he approaches Yoseph that the rest of the brothers do likewise. When Ya'acov and family arrive in Egypt we read: "And he [Jacob] sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to show the way before him…" (46:28 italics added). Yehuda's lead will become a scripturally repeated pattern (e.g. Num. 2:3; Jud. 1:2; 1st Ch. 5:2), applicable all the way to our present days. In Z’char’yah (Zechariah), we read: "For YHVH of Hosts will visit His flock, the House of Judah, and will make them as His royal horse in the battle. From him comes the cornerstone. From him the tent peg, from him the battle-bow, from him every ruler together. They shall be like mighty men who tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle. They shall fight because YHVH is with them, and the riders on horses shall be put to shame. I will strengthen the house of Judah…" (10:3-6). All this is to show how Yehuda is and has been the first contingency of the People of Yisrael to return to the Land, and as such is fulfilling this prophecy and pattern of leadership.

Last week we read in 43:30-31 how Yoseph's "heart yearned for his brother; so Joseph made haste and sought somewhere to weep. And he went into his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out; and he restrained himself." This time, after Yehuda's words, Yoseph is unable to restrain himself any longer (ref. 45:1). In both cases the word for “restrain” is "hit'apek" (a.p/f. k - alef, pey/fey, kof) and means, “to hold in, restrain, be strong.” It originates from the same root that also serves the word "ah'fik” – “riverbed” - which restrains the water coursing through it. On the earlier occasion, Yoseph's inner strength enabled him to withhold his flow of emotions. This time the ‘dam’ breaks, there is no restraint and the ‘ah'fik’ overflows with tears as he makes himself known to his brothers (45:1).

"Made himself known" is "hitvada", of the root “yada” (y.d.a, yod, dalet, ayin) – “to know.” “Yada” is a widely used verb. There are many levels of “knowing,” including the knowing of great intimacy, such as in the physical/sexual relations between husband and wife (e.g. Gen.4:1). In Bamidbar (Numbers) 12:6, YHVH says: "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, YHVH, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream" (italics added). YHVH is making Himself known there, using the very same word employed here by Yoseph, when he discloses himself to his brothers.

"But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for Elohim sent me before you to preserve life" (45:5 emphasis added). We already noted that "sent" is the theme of the story of Yoseph. All the circumstances that have befallen him have been part of YHVH's pre-determined plan to send him for His purposes. Yoseph is a man with a mission, brought to light now by his own words - "to preserve life." To make his point, Yoseph repeats his own words before his stunned brothers… "And Elohim sent me before you to preserve you a remnant in the earth, and to keep alive before you a great escape" (45:7). Interestingly, Yoseph uses the words "she'erit," which is “remnant,” and "pleta," referring to “escape or refuge.” Both terms point to a minuscule minority left out of the whole. Yet, the outcome of the predicament of the famine and forced emigration was quite the opposite. It is in their host country that the family of Ya'acov will become a great multitude (ref. 47:27). This seed, in order to increase greatly, seems to require foreign soil!

Several times in his monologue, while trying to plead Binyamin's case, Yehuda makes reference to the death of Binyamin's brother (that is, to Yoseph), to the possible death of Binyamin himself, and to the likely death of his father (44:20, 22, 31). In the narrative, which immediately follows, Yoseph's first, albeit rhetorical question to his brothers is whether his father is still alive (45:3). As we noted above, Yoseph then declares that the purpose for his 'mission' was "to preserve life" (v. 5 emphasis added), and in verse 7, "to save you alive" (emphasis added). When the brothers return home, they tell their father that, "Yoseph is still alive" (v. 26 emphasis added). After the initial shock, it says that "the spirit of Jacob their father revived… and Jacob said, 'Joseph my son is yet alive: I will go and see him before I die'" (v. 27, 28 emphases added). Thus death, and the threat thereof, which had colored the first part of the Parasha, is countered by life and revival in the 'counter' text. Almost from the start, the story of Yoseph and his mission portends the themes of impending death followed by survival. At the end of the Parasha, we once again encounter this topic, woven neatly into the fabric of the text. In the narrative that deals with Ya'acov and his family's reunion with Yoseph, in chapter 46, we read: "And Israel said to Joseph, 'Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive’" (v. 30 emphases added).

Next, we see Yoseph's interaction with the hungry Egyptian populace, whose lives are greatly threatened by the famine and by lack of financial means by which to obtain sustenance. In order to alleviate the impending threat of death, these people pay for their supplies with their land and labor (as they have already used up their live stock for that purpose, 47:16, 17). In their own words, "Wherefore should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants unto Pharaoh: and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and that the land be not desolate" (47:19, see also v. 15, emphasis added). Yoseph complies with their request, adding that a fifth of the purchased sustenance is to be handed over to Par'oh (v. 23,24). "And they said, 'you have saved our lives'" (v. 25 emphasis added). Next week's Parasha, which actually focuses on Ya’acov’s death, starts with the words, "And Jacob lived…" (emphasis added), being also the name of the Parasha.

We cannot depart from this week’s Parasha without pausing to look at the scene of Elohim's last (recorded) appearance to Ya'acov. On his way down to Egypt, Ya'acov stops in Be'er Sheva where he "offered sacrifices to the Elohim of his father Isaac. And Elohim spoke to Israel in the visions of the night, and said, 'Jacob, Jacob'. And he said, 'Here am I'. And he said, 'I am Elohim, the Elohim of your father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for there I will make of you a great nation. I will go down with you into Egypt; and I will also surely bring you up again’" (46:1-4). Since there is no (previous) record of Ya'acov's anxiety (about going down to Egypt), the words "fear not" seem rather curious. But as nothing is hidden from Elohim, He is obviously responding to a real and tangible concern in Ya'acov's heart. As he most certainly was aware of the word given to his grandfather Avraham about his offspring and their exile, Ya'acov's heart must have been troubled. The sojourn of his people into the land of plenty could potentially lead to a spiritual bondage, to be possibly followed by physical bondage. YHVH promises him, therefore, that He will go down with him and bring him back. Since Ya'acov was destined to die in Egypt, he serves here as a prototype for the people who would come out of his loins.[1] The 'many in the one' is a typical and familiar Biblical-Hebraic thought pattern, found both in the Tanach (Old Covenant) and in the Brit Chadasha (New Covenant), and powerfully and fully realized by our Messiah and Savior – Yeshua.

1. Studies in Bereshit, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman. Eliner. Library,
Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn,