Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha


December 11, 2010/4 Tevet 5771
Modern Author: Arthur Miller, “Mont Sant’ Angelo
Vayigash posts

KOSHI: HOW does Goshen help preserve Israel’s history & determine our future? WHERE is Goshen today

 REMEZ…Dialogue of the Centuries—Reclaiming Culture/Connection

Gen 45 v.9-10  Now, hurry back to my father and say to him: Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me without delay.  You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me—you and your children & grandchildren…”

RAMBAN…Joseph knew that his father would not consent to reside in the Egyptian capital, a center of pagan idolatry.

PIRKEI D’Rebbe ELIEZER…Without hesitation Joseph was able to assign to his family this province for he knew Pharaoh would agree, since one of the Egyptian ruler’s predecessors had given it to Sarah as a gift in perpetuity after she had been wrongfully abducted.

ABARBANEL“near to me…” It is as if to say, ‘Though my position in government forces me to live in the metropolis, at least you will be near enough for me to look after you.’

v.11  …so that you do not become destitute, you, your household, and all that is yours… 

IBN EZRA“TiVaReSH…” From the root YaRaSH, to cut off or dispossess, as in “l’horish goyim—to drive from your path nations greater than you, to take you into the land and assign it to you as a heritage.” [Deut 4:38]

Gen 46 v.28-29   Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way towards Goshen.  So when they came to the region of Goshen

RADAK…“l’horot l’fanav—to prepare ahead,”  Asking Joseph to provide a guide to lead them directly to Goshen, avoiding the main cities of Egypt altogether.

RASHI“l’horot l’fanav—to instruct ahead of him,”  This can be understood as the Targum renders “to clear a place for him to settle.”  An aggadic midrash alternatively suggests, “to establish for him a house of instruction” from which Torah shall go forth.

v.29-30   He appeared before him, then he fell on his neck, and wept excessively. Then Israel said to Joseph: “Now I can die, after having seen your face, for you are still alive.”

RAMBAN…  “He appeared before him…”  Israel’s eyes were dim with age,  and when Joseph arrived in the carriage of the second in Egypt’s ruling rank, with a mitre on his head and in full dress, his father did not know who he was.  When he recognized him, he cried over him as a father who found his son returned from the dead.

RASHI…Here it is Joseph who is weeping excessively, so that he can hardly stop crying. But Jacob did not weep, as our rabbis taught, for he was reciting the Shema. [PARDES YOSEF, as cited by the KOTZKER]

ONKELOS… Not “I will die,” but “If I were to die now, it would be with the comfort that you still live.”

OR HaCHAYIM… Though Jacob’s joy was great his happiness remained incomplete as long as  he’d not been assured that Joseph had maintained a high standard of piety.  How can one rejoice at rediscovering a son who’d abandoned his faith and his fear of God?  But Jacob, after having seen his son’s face, could recognize he’d remained righteous and pious.

 v.31-34  Then Joseph said to his brothers & to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell the news to Pharaoh saying, ‘My brothers and my father’s household…have come to me.  The men are shepherds; they have always been breeders of livestock, and they have brought with them their flocks and herds…’  So when Pharaoh summons you and asks, “What is your occupation?”  you shall answer, “Your servants have been breeders of livestock from our youth till now…’  Thus may you stay in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians.

RASHI…Goshen is a land of pasture, necessary for shepherds.  And when you tell Pharaoh that you have no other expertise, he will send you far away from himself and put you there.

“For all shepherds are an abomination…” since they worship sheep.

ARAMA…There is no doubt, had he desired, he could have appointed them to high positions, but he wanted them to say they were shepherds from time immemorial and they could not leave it. 

The NETZIV“It is an abomination…” In this way Joseph contrived matters to achieve his goal. Though degrading his family in the eyes of Pharaoh, it was worth preserving Israel’s future. 


12 responses to “Vayigash

  1. Virginia Fineberg December 15, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    I wonder, thinking both of the chevra session and of Miller’s story, if Goshen isn’t the place that, eventually, we cannot leave.

  2. irvzuckerman December 14, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    What more appropriate way to start this blog but with the Parsha dealing with Joseph and his father and a who-are-we story by Arthur Miller. What a parallel! Jacob used Joseph in a number of ways — one that almost got him killed. Isadore used Arthur in a number of . Since he himself was illiterate, he wanted to deny Arthur an education. Both sons wound up rejecting their Jewishness.

    Joseph had his ‘revenge’ by the way he treated his brothers. Arthur Miller had his revenge by mastering the written word. In the end, both men wound up supporting their fathers. And both men wound up wondering who they really were.

    Like tying a parcel, peeling an apple or potato was another Jewish specialty. The good cook prided herself on being able to produce one long peel as opposed to the short, stabbing strokes of her Gentile counterpart. Unhappily, searching for hidden Jews, the Gestapo learned to look at the garbage …

    • egrotta December 14, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks, Irv for the insight on Arthur Miller.

      When I was a student at the University of Michigan, hardly a week went by that someone in one of my English classes would relate to us something Arthur Miller had done while a student there.

      I don’t think I realized until we read the story this week, however, the tension in his work about his Jewish heritage.

      Son of an illiterate immigrant, Judaism does seep in around the corners and under the hem of many of his works.

      • irvzuckerman December 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm

        Here’s the remarkable thing about the way Miller depicted family life. In New York, Death of a Salesman was considered a Jewish play. In Boston, Thomas Mitchell played the lead with Arthur Kennedy as Biff. The critics were estatic: finally — an Irish play!

        Miller considerd the work an ink blot, interpreted differently around the world. To this day, no month goes by without it being played somewhere. But, in accordance with Miller’s wishes, not in New York. Go figure.

  3. Jeffrey Sirkman December 13, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    What sticks with me is that question, “Just where is Goshen today?”
    I wonder, Jane, if it is the place we come from, or the people we came from?
    As I wonder, Michael, if Goshen is the place we go to remind us we will never fully fit in–or to prevent us from fitting in beyond recognition of ourselves?
    WHY did I love Hanukah this year? Because it was not celebrated in contradistinction to Christmas. Hanukah could simply be that minor festival on our calendars, marking a military victory and the spiritual struggle we still wage, rather than the competing commercial December display…
    Maybe Goshen is good for the Jews after all?…

    • Michael Fineberg December 13, 2010 at 10:51 pm

      people or place
      place of a people
      turned away from history
      rephrasers of what was
      to centre what is

      place to remind ourselves
      of a house outside ourselves
      of a door that opens into a house within

    • Jane Boris Brandes December 14, 2010 at 1:57 am

      Reb Jeff, definitely the people. The people in that place, at that time. Many say their grandparents who came in the years of great immigration didn’t want to even talk about their ‘Egypt.’ But the shtetl, their Goshen, that was another story. I picture Anatevka. The characters, their way of living, the values, the Shabbat candles brought on the journey.

      I realized from Vayigash that ironically exile in Goshen was good for the Jews; they grew uninterrupted, until they were targeted. By the time of their exodus, though, they had numbers and were organized with tribal leaders, and could produce a Joshua and a Caleb, and a Nachshon from the tribe of Judah.

      I love the way Emily’s story illustrates the handing down of lifestyle from the Jewish grandmother which is unavoidably of her, by whatever name one calls it.

      The thing about Goshen it seems is that it is the formative place in the past–which at times we can create, like at chevra.

      And Ze’ev, the costumes. Starts with the multi-colored coat, the bloodied shirt, the jacket Potiphar tears, and goes on from there.

  4. Ze'ev Aviezer December 13, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Vayigash best represents theatrical Torah. It is a great scene in the extended religious opus that I shall call Joseph Triumphal.

    The play exploits, in the best possible way, the vagaries of the human, the quick change of human behavior. I especially love the revelation scene. All of us can visualize the sudden transformation, the change in the actors faces and demeanor, when our protagonist divulges his true identity. A classic that has not lost any of its dramatic affect in 2500 years. That is GREAT dramatic plot development, if nothing else.

    No God, no metaphysics, no prophetic expositions here; just terrific staging!

    And all of this on top of Potifar’s wife….Think of the visuals there.


  5. Emily Grotta December 12, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    On Thursday I heard about a couple who are teaching at the Milken School in LA. Neither is Jewish, but, because theiir children can attend free of charge, they’re sending them there.

    The second grader is already fairly fluent in Hebrew and loves wearing her Mogen David.

    They celebrate Shabbat…Hannukah…and are studying the parsha as a family each Friday. When my friend said, “are you sure you’re not Jewish? The Mother said, “Oh, my grandmother was….but she raised her daughter as a protestant….and she in turn raised me as such.”

  6. Jane Boris Brandes December 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    The koshi–HOW does Goshen help preserve Israel’s history & determine our future? WHERE is Goshen today?

    It’s really striking how the parsha prefigures our history– Joseph puts his family–who have fled to Egypt to survive–in Goshen, and we realize they are in diaspora, Goshen their ghetto.
    While Jacob and sons live apart from the Egyptians in whose land they dwell, they will thrive in Goshen under the protection of Joseph and a friendly Pharaoh. Living in outlying Goshen means they do not assimilate the culture of the Egyptians; their identity grows from their family ties, their common occupation as sheepherders, and their monotheistic religion. We don’t know what daily habits, customs, dialects, rituals and traditions will characterize this growing community in Goshen, but we do know that they will come to exist, and that these traits will be passed on to successive generations–much as the particular way a man carefully ties up a bundle with string, as we read in the companion piece, Sant’ Angelo, by Arthur Miller.

    So where is Goshen? In Vayigash, it’s the petri dish in which Jacob/ Israel and family continue to germinate and form, and from where, many years later and in great numbers, it sets out for freedom, once again fleeing.

    Goshen is wherever we come from. Our childhood family, and through them places long ago and far away are our Goshen, too. Though we may no longer live there, its markers will crop up in our daily lives, learned from our family, and they will link us with people wherever they may be who come from that place.

  7. Ze'ev Aviezer December 12, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    No specific comment. But kudos to Emily. Great looking site.

  8. Michael Fineberg December 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    All shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians”. Rashi’s comment that this was because they worshiped sheep seems questionable: that would have been a reason, on the contrary, to glorify them, as custodians of holy animals. Moreover, Pharaoh allows them to be set apart in Goshen, “the best part of the land”, because of their special status as Joseph’s family. No, the fact is that Joseph wants them to believe that they will be abhorrent to the Egyptians. Why?

    He is fearful that they will be assimilated as he himself has been. To save Israel he has turned away – or rather been led away – from Israel. So far indeed is he from Israel that he can scarcely believe that Israel still lives.

    In Goshen, not only does Joseph’s family find a new home and sustenance in a time of famine, but Joseph himself returns to Israel. Just as he himself was blessed by Isaac, and similarly in the wrong order,Jacob blesses Joseph’s sons, born of an Egyptian wife, who then become reabsorbed into the founding lineage of the twelve tribes.

    The assimilated Jew rediscovers his Jewish identity, it remained there all along, even if it was not visible to himself. As in the Arthur Miller story – and in many other cases told and untold – it takes just one Jew to recognize another.

    Now the question is what is the content of a Jewish identity that consists of no more than a recognition of Jewishness. Is it empty, just a badge, a mark of origins, like a childhood accent one has never lost, which says: this is where I come from, but not who I am, not who I have become..

    Or does being Jewish mean not fitting in, belonging somewhere else – whether that somewhere else be a physical or a metaphysical place. An Irish American, for example, may be both fully American and still strongly linked to Ireland; a Jewish American may be fully American and likewise remains strongly linked to somewhere else but that somewhere else is not the present-day State of Israel, as much as the present-day State of Israel may be thought, by some, to derive from it (or by others, to be a distorted image or even a betrayal of it…)

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