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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Enjoy the Utopia Where and When you Can

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When Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he commanded them to urge Yaakov to come down to Egypt (Bereishit 45:9). This was much more than a visit to a long-lost son. Rather, he wanted Yaakov to relocate with the whole family because, otherwise, they would all be impoverished during the years of famine (ibid.:10-11). Why couldn’t Yosef support his father’s family in the Land of Canaan with food shipments? After all, Yaakov was apparently planning to do this on a modest scale before Yosef surfaced. If this was impossible long-term, why didn’t Yosef wait until the food ran out before relocating the family, which always was to live in the Land of Canaan until forced out?

Various answers that are given show the limitations of the power of the likes of Yosef among the nations of the world. The Ramban says that Yosef could not support the family while they remained in a foreign land. He was afraid that people would suspect he was smuggling resources out to pad his own "Swiss bank accounts" with Egyptian money so that he could leave the country and keep its money. While his family was in Egypt, everyone would see that he was only supporting them.

Although Egypt’s people and leadership realized that Yosef deserved whatever he needed for his extended family and, on one level, gave him full trust, they never were willing to fully trust the Hebrew. Yosef, for his part, wanted to remain not only with clean hands but with visibly clean hands. Yosef spoke from experience. How long did it take for him to go from the biggest asset in Potiphar’s estate to a prisoner falsely convicted without trial of attempted rape? (This is not a bad lesson for fine Jews throughout the world, who could suddenly find themselves under public scrutiny.)

The Netziv explains that Yosef stressed his special standing enabled him to not only secure a place in Egypt, but a secluded place, the Land of Goshen. This fulfilled Yaakov’s desire that his falmily should be badad (alone among the nations), as witnessed by the pasuk in Devarim 33:28). That same pasuk also talks about betach (secure), which The Netziv elsewhere (see Bereishit 31:46) explains to mean at peace with the nations around him. It appears that the urgency of Yosef’s urging was along the following lines. The family would eventually spend a difficult period in exile, as Hashem had decreed in Brit Bein Habetarim (Beresihit 15:13). Better to start it when Yosef could arrange the most survivable experience possible. Thus, Yosef’s present ability to set up a semi-autonomous enclave warranted bringing down the family immediately.

As history would prove, Bnei Yisrael would be enslaved under the pretext of suspected treason. This scenario would repeat itself in different countries (e.g., Spain, Germany) in different times, under different pretexts, with different degrees of tragedy. Let us hope that the need for exile is over and that all should seize the opportunity to return home, where we hope to have no reason to "look over our shoulders."

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