The portion of Vayigash sees Joseph revealing his true identity to his brothers, inviting his father and the rest of their family to join him in Egypt. Jacob brings his family to Joseph, and Joseph cares for them for the remainder of his life. The portion also includes details of Joseph’s work as viceroy which were not included in last week’s portion.
Judah’s Plea and Joseph’s Revelation
Last week’s portion ended with a cliff-hanger, as Joseph called for Benjamin’s servitude. This week’s portion opens with Judah stepping forward in defense of the brother whose safety he personally assured his father.
Judah reviews the events to date for Joseph: you asked after our family, we told you we have a father and a younger brother on whom he dotes. You insisted on us bringing Benjamin, which we did, but we cannot afford to return without him, or our father will surely die. Judah pleads with Joseph to allow him to stay in Benjamin’s stead, sending the youngest son back to his father with the remaining brothers.
Moved by Judah’s apparent love for Benjamin and care for their father, Joseph at long last reveals himself to his brothers. He reassures them that everything has taken place in accordance with God’s plan that he should be in a position to save them and all of Egypt from the famine, and therefore they should not blame themselves for what has transpired. As the Israel Bible points out, the brothers fear Joseph will want his revenge, but he indicates he has no such intentions, as everything that has happened has been God’s will. In fact, Joseph’s descent into Egypt was necessary to set in motion the slavery in Egypt and the eventual ‘great deliverance’ and arrival in the Promised Land.
Joseph tells his brothers to hurry back to their father and bring him, their families and all their belongings to Egypt, where Joseph can use his power and influence to care for their needs. At last, the reunited sons of Rachel embrace and weep on each other’s shoulders.
Pharaoh hears of the family reunion and is also pleased. He, too, urges the brothers to hurry back with Jacob and their families. He tells them not even to worry about their belongings, as he will give them the best Egypt has to offer.
Joseph dispatches his brothers in wagons laden with gifts, especially for Benjamin and Jacob. The news of Joseph’s survival and position, along with the gifts he had sent, serve to revive Jacob’s spirit greatly and he is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing his beloved son again before his death.
Points to Ponder
Joseph has already been told several times that Jacob is alive. Why do you think he asks again if his father still lives?
Jacob Descends to Egypt
Jacob sets out for Egypt, stopping in Beersheba on the way. There, God addresses him, reassuring him not to fear the descent to Egypt, for there He will make them a great nation. The Israel Bible remarks on the use of the word ‘descent’, which serves as a reminder that the Land of Israel is the ultimate height of spirituality. From there, Jacob transports his family and belongings in the wagons sent by Pharaoh. Here, the Torah enumerates the names of all the children and grandchildren who traveled with Jacob.
Judah is sent ahead to prepare the land of Goshen for Jacob’s arrival. Joseph, meanwhile, rides out to meet his father, crying on his neck. Jacob tells his son he can now die in peace, having seen him once more.
Joseph alerts his brothers to the Egyptians’ squeamishness over herding. He tells them that if they inform Pharaoh they are shepherds, he will give them leave to live in Goshen, where the land is suitable for their profession and they will be out of sight of the Egyptians. The brothers follow Joseph’s advice, and Pharaoh does as Joseph predicted, asking them as well to choose competent men from among themselves to tend for Pharaoh’s own livestock.
Joseph presents his father to Pharaoh, and Jacob blesses him. Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, and he answers that at 130, his years have been bitter. Joseph also settles his father and brothers in their new land.
Points to Ponder
The Torah indicates Joseph weeps upon seeing his father, but Jacob does not. Why do you think that might be?
Joseph and the Famine
The Torah details Joseph’s administrative work. As people come from across Egypt and Canaan to buy bread, Joseph amasses great wealth for Pharaoh. When the people run out of money for food, he accepts livestock as payment. When even that is diminished, he takes their land in payment, allowing them to continue living as serfs to Pharaoh. He resettles the residents of the land, with the exception of the priests, and distributes grain for the people to plant, demanding that they give Pharaoh one fifth of everything they grow in exchange for living off the land. The people are grateful to Pharaoh and to Joseph, for his actions save their lives. The portion closes with the statement that the Children of Israel settle in Goshen, gain wealth and multiply greatly.
Points to Ponder
Why do you think Joseph resettles the residents across the country?