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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Parashat Vayigash

Seeing with One’s Eyes Closed

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Before Yaakov’s descent to Egypt, Hashem reassured him: "Do not fear … there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt and I will surely bring you up, and Yosef will place his hand on your eyes" (Bereishit 46:2-4). Many commentaries struggle with the ambiguous phrase, "Yosef will place his hand on your eyes." The Rashbam explains that Hashem was reassuring Yaakov that Yosef would see to his needs while in Egypt. The Ibn Ezra, however, sees this as a guarantee to Yaakov that he would not be separated from Yosef until he died. Yosef would be by Yaakov’s deathbed, placing his hand on Yaakov’s eyes, according to the custom they followed. Support for the Ibn Ezra’s interpretation is found in Midrash Sechel Tov. When Yaakov died, Yosef fell on his father’s face (ibid 50:1). Why is this said only about Yosef? Did his brothers act differently? Rather, it specifically mentions Yosef’s falling, to tell us of the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Yaakov, ‘and Yosef will place his hand on your eyes.’

According to the Ibn Ezra’s explanation, the placing of Yosef’s hand is related to Hashem’s promise, "I will surely bring you up [to Eretz Yisrael]," which also was fulfilled only upon Yaakov’s death. However, according to both the Ibn Ezra and Rashbam, the pasuk seems chronologically out of order. The phrase, "and Yosef will place his hand on your eyes," which was fulfilled during his lifetime or as he died, should appear in the middle of the pasuk. Why is found at the end of the pasuk, after the matter of Yaakov’s posthumous return to the Land?

The Meshech Chuchma offers a unique interpretation, which, among other things, solves the problem of this phrase’s positioning. He explains that Hashem was telling Yaakov not to overly analyze why he was descending to Egypt. With our limited understanding, we cannot comprehend why Hashem does certain things. Who could have guessed that the pain Yosef endured during his sale and imprisonment would eventually lead to his position as viceroy to the king of Egypt, a position that enabled him to promulgate his righteous ideologies? In other words, the story of Yosef should teach Yaakov to "close his eyes" in the face of Divine Providence. Indeed, Yosef’s arrival in Egypt, and later that of the rest of his family, was part of a bigger master plan that could be understood only when all of its stages would come to fruition. These events made it possible to attempt to bring Hashem’s kingship to the most influential society of its time. Yosef, as viceroy to Pharaoh, tried to make a monotheistic revolution in a land of idolatry. Had all been aware of this from the beginning, those involved would not have been so skeptical and could have appreciated the importance of the difficult events that transpired.

This approach fits very nicely with the p’sukim in Tehillim, which describe the events of Yosef’s life. "As a slave Yosef was sold … an iron chain was laid on his soul. Until the time His word came to pass, the words of Hashem purified him. The king sent (for him) and they freed him ... He was appointed as master of his house and ruler of all his possessions. To imprison his officers as he desired and make his elders wise" (Tehillim 105: 17-22).

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