Weekly Portion: Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

We left off last week with Joseph’s pronouncement that he was keeping Benjamin as a slave for stealing his wine cup. Judah steps forward to challenge the decision and offers himself as a slave instead of Benjamin. Joseph is overcome with emotion, clears the room of all Egyptians and then reveals his identity to his unsuspecting brothers.

The brothers are shocked! They suspect Joseph’s intentions, but accept his offer to bring the extended family to Egypt. Jacob is initially numb and disbelieving of the news, but becomes very excited to see his son.

The Torah recounts the 70 members of Jacob’s family which went down to Egypt. Jacob reunites with Joseph, meets Pharaoh and settles with the family in the Goshen district. During the famine, Joseph buys up all of the property and people in Egypt for Pharaoh with the grain stored during the seven good years.

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Dvar Torah
based on Twerski on Chumash by
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

“When they (the brothers) related to him (Jacob) all the words that Joseph had spoken … the spirit of their father Jacob was revived” (Gen. 45:27).

This verse refers to the brothers telling their father that Joseph was alive after Jacob had mourned for Joseph the past 22 years. Why didn’t Joseph send a message to his father that he was alive and well — and, by the way, the ruler of Egypt? Secondly, why did Joseph ask his brothers “Is my father still alive?” when they already told him that Jacob was still living? What does it mean that “the spirit of their father Jacob was revived”?

Joseph knew that Jacob had prophetic vision. He assumed that Jacob knew exactly what had happened to him and where he was and therefore his father concurred with what the brothers did with him. It did not occur to Joseph that Jacob was deprived of the Divine spirit which allowed him prophecy. When Judah told him that Jacob said, “You know that my wife bore me two sons. One has left me and I presumed: Alas, he has surely been torn to pieces, for I have not seen him since!” — it was then that Joseph realized that Jacob had lost the Divine spirit.

The Talmud says, “The righteous are considered alive even after their death, whereas the wicked are considered dead even when they live” (Berachos 18a). The Torah considers the essence of human life to be spirituality rather than biology. Animals, too, breathe, look for food, seek shelter, reproduce and care for their young. Some show a degree of intelligence. Man is more than just an animal with greater intelligence. Man is a creature that can be master of his biology rather than a slave to it. A human being without spirituality is nothing more than an animal with intellect. He lives biologically, but is spiritually dead.

When Joseph asked the brothers, “Is my father still alive?” — he was not asking if he was physically alive, but if he was spiritually alive. When Jacob found out that Joseph was alive he was spiritually revived!


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