top of page

Parashat Vayigash

The Dangers of Exile

When I lived in Argentina, I always had two wishes: I did not want a Jew to be a key figure in the Treasury and –not to be compared– I did not want a Jew to be the trainer of the national soccer team. Jews in key positions always pose a potential threat to the local Jewish community.

Let us think about Yosef. After his career as the solver of dreams in prison, Yosef the Hebrew was appointed regent to the king. He was a key figure
in the empire. Pharoah the king of Egypt admired him and Yosef proved himself for he saved Egypt during the years of famine.

But Pharoah's love was "not for the sake of heaven". He did not love Yosef "the man". He certainly did not love Yosef "the Hebrew". He loved Yosef the solver of dreams because he was useful to the empire.

Pharoah's generosity towards Yosef and his brothers was based on the fact that he needed Yosef in the palace. Proof of this comes in the beginning of the Book of Exodus. After Yosef's death, when there is a king "who did not know Yosef", the special status disappears.

But the new Pharoah is not the only one responsible for the slavery of the Israelites in Egypt. The Israelites settled in Egypt and very quickly began to feel that this was their home.

Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Lunshitz, sees a hint of this in the last verse of our parasha: "And Yisrael dwelt in the land of Egypt in the country of Goshen; and they took possession of it and grew and multiplied exceedingly"
(Genesis 47:27)

“This whole verse is intended to point to the guilt of the Israelites. The Holy One blessed be He decreed that "your offspring shall be strangers" (Genesis 15:13), while they wanted to be permanent residents in a place where it was decreed that they be strangers…This verse blames them for their desire to take possession of land not theirs. Had they not said to Pharoah "we have come to sojourn in the land” (Genesis 47:4)? This teaches us that originally they had not come to settle in the land but only to live there as "temporary residents" and now they were going back on their word. They settled down to such an extent that they didn’t want to leave Egypt until The Holy One was obliged to remove them "with a strong hand".

This story repeats itself throughout history. In Egypt before the period of slavery, in Spain before the expulsion and in Germany before the Holocaust.

For some reason, in all those countries, Jews forgot that they were in exile.

I get the same impression each time I travel to the U.S.

Jews in America live with a similar feeling. It is correct that there is no threat of immediate danger in America…but there is something mistaken in this thought.

Thus when relatives phone from abroad during these difficult days of warnings, terrorist acts and the atomic threats and ask me if I'm worried, my answer is that in the last two thousand years there has not been a safer place for Jews to live than the place where I now live.

The "Chafetz Chayim" makes an interesting point:

When Shabat ends we say in the Havdalah: "He who divides between holy and profane, between light and darkness, between Israel and the nations."

Who has been given the responsibility of differentiating between holy and profane by the Holy One? The responsibility lies with us, the people of Israel.

Who has the responsibility to separate light from darkness? This, the Holy one blessed be He has taken upon Himself; "And G-d divided the light from the darkness" (Genesis 1:3) .

And who has the responsibility of differentiating between Israel and other nations? Who has to take care of this division?

The "Chafetz Chayim" says: The Holy One blessed be He gave this task to the nations!

Every time Jews want to settle among the nations of the world, the nations' task becomes to set the Jews apart and they perform this task faithfully!

Thus we see, Pharoah was not the only one responsible for the situation.

Weekly Torah Portion

Old Hebrew Prayer Book
bottom of page