A long time ago... - Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
One of the key events in this week’s parasha is that of Jacob and his family going down to Egypt. Joseph instructs his brothers, saying; “Maharu v’alu el avi v’amartem eilav koh amar bincha Yosef samani Elohim l’adon l’chol-mitzrayim r’dah eilay al ta’amod” (Hasten and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘So said your son, Joseph: “God has made me a master over all the Egyptians. Come down to me, do not tarry”‘).
Some commentators refer to this instruction, explaining that Joseph knew that if Jacob and the rest of the family remained in Canaan, they would surely perish, as the famine engulfed the region. So, in order to save his family, he told them to move to Egypt, to Goshen to be more specific, to help make sure that they would survive. In addition, there is an even more personal reason that Joseph wants his father to come to Egypt quickly – he hasn’t seen him for so many years.
There’s also a viewpoint that God desired this move, in order to prevent potential assimilation of the next generation (that had settled in Canaan), and there is suggestion of that. Moving them to Egypt would serve to help prevent assimilation, as the Egyptians were segregationists who maintained a level of contempt, as evidenced towards the end of last week’s parasha; “ki lo yuchlun hamitzrim l’echol et-ha’ivrim lechem ki to’eivah hi l’mitzrayim” (for the Egyptians could not dine with the Hebrews, since that would be abhorrent to the Egyptians). Perhaps we could argue that that was the very first shtetl.
In the last few parashot we’ve been focusing on Joseph’s story in Egypt, how he went from a slave, to being thrown into prison, how he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, and eventually became the governor, answerable only to Pharaoh.
With Jacob coming to Egypt, and bringing with him the entire family, our ancestry, our heritage, moved to Egypt. Now, the full complement of our lineage at that time, Jacob and all of his family, were in the same place. It is as if the pause button had been pushed, and then a separate set of stories (involving Joseph) entertained us, and now that we have everyone back together again, we can continue our story.
Perhaps it could be like Rogue One, where the rest of the Star Wars story happened anyway, and if you missed out on what’s been labelled Episode 3.5 (Star Wars fans will know what I am talking about), your entertainment and experience wouldn’t be as rich, but the overall story doesn’t change.
However, upon further reflection it isn’t the same with Joseph’s adventures and experiences. If Joseph was not taken to Egypt in the first place, the overall story would change drastically. Taking everything at face value, it could have ended in disaster for the entire region, given that one of Joseph’s major accomplishments was interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, foreseeing the inevitable famine, and then developing a plan to take advantage of the years of plenty and store what could be stored, allowing Egypt and most of the region to survive the famine.
So, even though the story of our ancestors seems to go off at a tangent, and for the most part it leaves behind the current and previous generation (in Canaan) for some time, focusing on the story of just one of Jacob’s children, it is a necessary inclusion, allowing Joseph to make his mark on society, to grow as a human, to realise he too needs to act less arrogantly, and ultimately, it is his journey and his success that will allow the story of our ancestors to continue in Goshen, able to contend with the potential dangers they were facing in Canaan then. We also learn to appreciate the importance of all of the adventures and events our ancestors endured, as part of our story.
Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 16, 2021
3rd of Sh'vat, 5781
Friday, January 15 2021 7:51PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:26PM
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