by Glenn Harris | January 01 1970
The parasha for this week is entitled Vayigash (from the verb meaning to draw near) and covers Genesis 44:18-47:27. Judah, completely unaware that he is standing in front of his own brother Joseph, falls to his knees and pleads with this ‘Egyptian lord’ for the life of their brother Benjamin. He insists that if Benjamin doesn’t return with them, their father Jacob will surely die of sorrow, having already lost a dear son. And then Judah does something wonderful – he offers himself in place of Benjamin. Why is Moses telling us this? For the same reason he later tells us that Jacob sent Judah on ahead to Joseph to point the way to Goshen (46:28). It is because Judah is our man – he’s the one whose genealogical line will eventually lead to Messiah. Judah leads us to Joseph, Joseph leads us to Goshen, and in Goshen we are provided for and sheltered. It is, I believe, a lovely foreshadowing of the tribe of Judah leading us to Messiah, who in turn leads us to Heaven where we will forever be provided for and sheltered.
So Judah offers himself as the substitute for Benjamin, and Joseph can no longer control himself, overwhelmed with emotion. Joseph orders everyone but the sons of Jacob out of the room, and in one of the most emotionally charged scenes in all of Scripture, reveals himself, saying: “I am your brother!” They are thunderstruck! He invites them to draw near and see that it really is him. The very one they had hated and sold into Egypt is the one who has become their provider, their savior. Sometime you just have to read Genesis 44-46 and Zechariah 11-12 consecutively.
While not glossing over the brothers’ guilt in selling him into Egypt, Joseph affirms that it accomplished God’s much greater purpose, which was to send him ahead to provide salvation for his family during the famine. And that is precisely what he intends to do. Joseph sends them back to Canaan with generous provisions and gifts for his father, and tells them to inform Jacob that his son Joseph is alive, and is lord over Egypt, and that the entire family is to relocate to Egypt, which will be the only place one can find food in the five remaining years of famine.
The brothers return to their father with the incredible news, and Jacob is overwhelmed and overjoyed to learn that his beloved son is not dead, but alive! He and the entire family, the brothers, wives, children and grandchildren set out for Egypt. Just as Abraham had sojourned in Egypt during a famine, now his descendants will sojourn there, but we already know they will be there a long time! This is a pivotal time for them, and when Jacob stops in Beersheva to offer sacrifices, God meets with him and reassures him, saying “…do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes.”This passage is where the juxtaposition of the names Jacob and Israel gets really interesting, and it isn’t arbitrary. When God says he will bring Israel up again out of Egypt, he is referring to the nation, not the man. So Israel the man and, figuratively, Israel the nation, goes down to Egypt. Israel the man and, figuratively, Israel the nation stands before Pharaoh and blesses him, and Israel settles in Goshen.
The parasha ends with the Egyptians running out of money. The famine has so taxed the land that they are then forced to sell their livestock to Joseph in exchange for grain to eat; and when that runs out, they are forced to sell their homes and lands. Joseph effectively makes Pharaoh the landlord over all Egypt! But the people are grateful to Joseph, who has saved their lives through his insight and wise administration.
We all should follow Joseph’s excellent example where our own finances are concerned. If you don’t make it a point to systematically save a portion of what you earn, you will eventually find yourself in a bad situation when the hard times come, as they inevitably do. Your “famine” might not last seven years, but you would do well to think ahead. Rabbi Loren and I exhort you to be wise and plan for the unforeseen; and it will go well with you, and you may then be in a position to help others at that troublesome time. And if you aren’t sure about our advice, then heed the writer of Proverbs:
The prudent see danger approaching and take refuge,
but the simple keep going and suffer for it. (Proverbs 27:12)
While Judah may be the one whose genealogical line leads us to Messiah, Joseph is the one whose godly character in the face of repeated injustices and whose exaltation from the prison to the palace and great salvation of his family is the pattern we’re to keep in mind if we’re looking for and anticipating Messiah. Some rabbis recognized this pattern, and in light of various prophecies from Isaiah and Zechariah, spoke of “Messiah ben Yosef” (Messiah, the son of Joseph”) – a righteous but suffering Servant of God.
Understand with me, then, the irony of John 6:42. Yeshua speaks of Himself as the bread that came down from Heaven. And the Jewish leaders respond by saying, “Isn’t this Yeshua,the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” They were this close to stumbling onto the truth; but with eyes resolutely shut and hearts hard as stone, they were an eternity’s distance away.
Meanwhile, through His own suffering and subsequent exaltation, Yeshua has opened the way to eternal bliss for us – He has already accomplished the work of Ben Yosef. Soon He will be revealed to the inhabitants of the world in power and splendor as Ben David.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Vayigash וַיִּגַּשׁ . Other transliterations: Va’yigash or Vaigash