Parshat hashavua parsha : vayigash date : 7 Kislev 5759 26-12-98 “The Best of Parshat HaShavuah”

YAAKOV (leaving Eretz Canaan) MOSHE (at the burning bush)

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YAAKOV (leaving Eretz Canaan) MOSHE (at the burning bush)

(Breishit 46:2-4) (Shmot 3:4-8)

God called to Yisrael in a vision: God called out to Moshe:


va'yomer hi'nay'ni" va'yomer hi'nay'ni"

And he said: And he said:

I am the God of your father... I am the God of your father...

Do not fear going down to Egypt I have seen the suffering of

for I will make you there My People in Egypt and I have

a great Nation... heard their crying...

I will go DOWN with you to Egypt I have come DOWN to rescue

and them from Egypt in order to

I will surely GO UP with you.. BRING YOU UP from that Land

to the Land flowing with...

[It is recommended that you compare these psukim in Hebrew.]

Just as the linguistic parallel is obvious, so too the thematic parallel: At God's "hitgalut" to Moshe (at the burning bush), He instructs Moshe to inform Bnei Yisrael that God has come to fulfill the covenant of Brit Bein Ha'Btarim, i.e. to bring them out of bondage, to become a sovereign Nation and to conquer the Promised Land.

C. The emotional confrontation between Yehuda and Yosef at the beginning of this weeks Parsha is symbolic of future struggles between shevet Yehuda and shevet Yosef. 1. Note that in this week's parsha they are arguing over Binyamin. How do the "nachalot" of the shvatim represent this struggle?

2. Relate this to the location of the Mikdash in the "nachala" of Binyamin. Relate as well to Yehoshua 18:11.

3. Relate this to civil war against Binyamin as described in chapter 20 of Sefer Shoftim.



A project of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene hulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Sponsored by Dr. Ruth Borchard of the Shoresh Charitable Fund (SCF). Published with assistance of the President's Fund for Torah and Science.Web Site:

A) Views of Early Commentators on the Nature of Biblical Hebrew

Dr. Luba Harlap, The Unit for Hebrew Composition

"You can see for yourselves, ... that it is indeed I who am speaking to you"

Nahmanides' commentary on this week's reading, VaYigash, conveys his views on the origins and development of the Hebrew language. We refer to his interpretation of the verse in which Joseph speaks to his brothers, trying to convince them of his true identity, and says to them: "You can see for yourselves, and my brother Benjamin for himself, that it is indeed I who am speaking to you" (Gen. 45:12). Literally, the Hebrew reads: "For it is my mouth (pi) which speaks to you." Commentators found it difficult to understand this proof of Joseph's identity. Onkelos translated the verse as follows: "For I am speaking to you in your language." Rashi, citing Genesis Rabbah 93, wrote: "Behold, your eyes see my glory, and that I am your brother, for I am circumcised just like you, and further it is my mouth that speaketh to you in the holy language." That is, Joseph presented two proofs: circumcision and speaking the holy language.

Nahmanides, commenting on this verse, cited Onkelos and continued, "Perhaps speaking to them thus was merely a pretext for pacifying them, for the fact that someone in Egypt spoke the holy language is no proof [of being a Hebrew]; since, as far as I know, it was the language spoken in Canaan, and many Egyptians knew it because of the country's proximity." It follows from Nahmanides' remarks that knowing the holy tongue was no guarantee of Joseph being a Hebrew since, in his opinion, Hebrew was the language spoke by the Canaanites and was clearly not unique to the patriarch's clan.

Nahmanides offered another explanation of Joseph's intentions (see his commentary on verse 12), but what concerns us is the way Nahmanides incidentally revealed his opinion on the origins of the Hebrew language.

Midrashic and talmudic comments on the virtues and antiquity of the Hebrew language are well-known.[1] Some of these sources refer to Hebrew as the "holy language." The views of the Kuzari[2] and of Maimonides[3] are also known. These as well as others[4] stress the importance of the Hebrew language. Medieval grammarians also commented on the special status of Hebrew. For example, in his introduction to Sefer Ha-Rikmah, R. Jonah Ibn Janah said: "... The [Holy One, blessed be He] set aside Hebrew above all other languages, giving his sacred Torah in that language, and using it to explain his pure commands." He went on to explain the religious importance of studying the language. R. Abraham Ibn Ezra, too, in his introduction to his gramatical book Safah Berurah (2a), set out to establish which is the first and foremost of all languages and concluded that the "holy tongue" is foremost, superior in various regards to Aramaic and Arabic. Apparently these determinations about the importance of Hebrew influenced the thinking of medieval Jewish scholars, given the flourishing of Arabic grammar and literature in this era and the pride of place held by it as the spoken language in the region.

In this setting, some of the views expressed by early Bible commentators appear surprisingly modern for their time. For example, consider

Nahmanides' view on the Canaanite nature of Hebrew which we saw above. Also consider Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the verse, "In that day, there shall be five towns in the land of Egypt speaking the language of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18): "The language of Canaan -- from this we learn that the Canaanites spoke the holy tongue." In other words, he considered that Hebrew was the language of the Canaanites.

It seems that Ibn Ezra's remarks, as well as Nahmanides' interpretations, necessarily imply a different understanding of the concept of "holy language." Hebrew was a Canaanite language, spoken in the Semitic world by various groups including Hebrews.[5] If so, as a living spoken language it was surely susceptible to external influences, resulting from interaction among the languages of the region, and to the usual internal developmental processes that take place in any living language. How, then, is Hebrew different from other languages? By what merit did it come to be called the "holy tongue"? The answer can be found in Nahmanides' commentary on Exodus 10:13:

As I see it, the reason for the Rabbis calling the language of the Torah the holy tongue is that the words of the Torah and of the prophets and all sacred utterances were all spoken in that language; it is the language that the Holy One, blessed be He, speaks with His prophets and with His people, saying, "I am ...," "Thou shalt not have ..." and the remaining commandments and prophecies; it is the language by which He is called in his sacred names... and in which He created His universe, gave names to heaven and earth and all therein, giving his angels and his host names -- Michael, Gabriel, etc. -- all in that language, and in that language naming the saintly people in the Land, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Solomon.[6]

In short, according to Nahmanides the sanctity of the language is due to its being used for sacred purposes, from Creation and throughout history, to write the Torah and words of prophecy.[7]

The greatness of the holy language is that it gains new vitality and sanctity through us and for us, every day.

[1] Cf. Sifre Deuteronomy on Haazinu 32:43 (also cited in Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 113a and elsewhere); Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 1.9; Bab. Shabbat 12b; Sotah 33a; also Genesis Rabbah, 18 (summarized by Rashi in his commentary on Gen. 2:23). [2] The Kuzari, 1.26; 2.68. [3] Cf. Guide for the Perplexed, 3.8. [4] For example, Abarbanel on Genesis 2:23; Rabbi Azariah De Rossi, Meor Einayim II, 57; R. Jacob Emden (Yavetz), Migdal Oz, Aliyat ha-Lashon. [5] Compare this to the scientific view of Hebrew as a Canaanite dialect together with Old Canaanite, Phoenician and Moabite, belonging to the family of northwestern Semitic tongues,. (Cf., for example, J. Blau, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 1976, p. 1). [6] Further on, Nahmanides rejects Maimonides' explanation of the sanctity of the language as presented by the latter in Guide for the Perplexed: "For in this holy language no word at all has been laid down in order to designate either the male or the female organ of copulation...." Nahmanides remarks, "If that were the reason, it would have been called the clean language." [7] Also see Yavetz, Migdal Oz (loc. sit., chapter 2): "As for Hebrew being called the holy language, more so than others,... it is because the Holy One, blessed be He, used it to create His world, and because the holy Torah was given in that language."

B) Presentation of Joseph's Brothers to Pharaoh

Dr. Shimon Kuper Department of Sociology and Anthropology

In this week's reading Joseph informs Pharaoh that his brothers have come to Egypt, and beforehand he even instructs them what to say to Pharaoh. He chooses five brothers to present to Pharaoh. There is some disagreement as to which brothers he selected, but it is clear he intended to present Pharaoh the weakest of them. According to Rashi, "Some of his brethren -- Some of the inferior ones amongst them as to strength -- of those who did not look robust. For should Pharaoh find them to be robust men, he might press them for military service" (47:2).

In a similar vein, the author of the Kli Yakar commentary expresses wonderment on the verse, "The men are shepherds; they have always been breeders of livestock, and they have brought with them their flocks and herds and all that is theirs" (46:32). He comments as follows: "Careful attention should be paid to why he felt he had to offer the explanation that they were breeders of livestock; whether or not they were breeders of livestock, they were shepherds all the same." He continues to say that Joseph, trying to keep his brothers far from the center of the country, wanted them to tell Pharaoh they were shepherds, not breeders of livestock, precisely because flocks of sheep were abhorrent to Egypt. When Joseph comes to Pharaoh to tell him that his father and brothers have arrived, he says they have flocks and herds (47:1), but when they appear before Pharaoh they say they only that they are shepherds and wish to live in the land of Goshen (47:3-4).

Understanding the ecological balance of eastern Africa can help us elaborate on the explanations given by Rashi and Kli Yakar. Eastern Africa has a considerable number of nomadic cultures that raise cattle and sheep, as well as many who keep camels and donkeys, insofar as that is possible. A tribe that has sufficient manpower and large herds of cattle and sheep can exploit its poor surroundings and manpower maximally. Where agricultural technology is undeveloped, keeping cattle requires extensive pasture and in certain seasons necessitates wandering quite far in order to find suitable pasture. Sheep and goats, however, do not need extensive land for grazing, but can be raised in places where the vegetation is insufficient for cattle.

A group that has a suitable division between sheep and cattle, and sufficient manpower to look after separate herds in different places, far from each other, can use the environment very efficiently. Sheep and cattle occupy different ecological niches, and do not compete with each other for the same resources. When manpower does not suffice to look after the sheep and cattle in separate herds, the sheep must be grazed according to the needs of the cattle. As a result, a relatively large area of pasture (in comparison to the number of heads of cattle) is needed by such livestock breeders.

Presumably this accurately describes the position of Jacob's sons when they moved to Egypt. They may have had herds of sheep and cattle, but they had a shortage of hands to look after their herds. Therefore they had to look after all their livestock in the same area. This would have led to intense pressure on the pasture in the area, Jacob's clan competing for water and pasture resources with Egyptian livestock owners. Joseph had to manipulate the situation so that he could tell Pharaoh the truth and thereby have him understand his brothers' weakness and the fact that as shepherds they were not competing over the pasture for cattle. Let us examine Chapter 46, verses 32 and 34: "The men are shepherds; they have always been breeders of livestock" (some had sheep and some had cattle). "You shall answer, 'Your servants have been breeders of livestock,' ... so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians." (Pharaoh will send you to Goshen, a place intended for pasturing cattle, and you will have to graze the sheep with the cattle.) In Chapter 47 Joseph reveals to Pharaoh the truth, that his brothers keep sheep and cattle; but they are already in Goshen, a place which is suitable to them. He selects his five weakest brothers, and instructs them, when Pharaoh inquires as to their livelihood, to tell him the truth: they are shepherds. In eastern African societies that have the conditions for raising sheep and cattle, it is the weaker ones who raise the sheep, and the stronger ones who remain with the cattle. This reinforces Rashi's point, that they were "inferior as to strength." Pharaoh understands that this is only part of Jacob's family, and that the other part includes cattle breeders competing for Egypt's resources of water and pasture. Thus Pharaoh notes (47:6), "Let them stay in the region of Goshen. And if you know any capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock." In other words: I know some of your brothers are strong cattle raisers, and I would like them to take charge of my livestock.

Sheep may have been abhorrent to Egypt for the reason Rashi notes, but sheep are abhorrent to whoever invests the greater part of his energy in cattle because they destroy the pasture of the cattle. Hence, when possible, it is preferable to graze sheep separately.

C) "The Scepter Shall Not Depart From Judah" Choosing a Leader of Israel

Professor Jacob Klein Department of Hebrew and Bible

The history of the twelve sons of Jacob prefigures that of their descendants, the children of Israel, as if they comprised a kind of general rehearsal for the history of the Jewish people in its own land. What the sons did as individuals, and the roles each performed, foreshadows forth the actions of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in history. In the Portions of Vayishlach, Vayeshev and Vayigash, the future leadership of the people takes shape as it becomes increasingly clear who will be the leader in time to come--that is, who will be the founding father of Israel's royal dynasty. One by one the various candidates are disqualified, until through a process of natural selection the true leader of Israel emerges.

1. Reuben

As the first-born, Reuben ought to lead his brothers. But at an early point he stumbles and is found to be unworthy: "And it was, when Israel [Jacob] dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine;1 and Israel heard about it"2 (Gen. 35:22). Nor does Jacob rely upon Reuben later on when he offers to take charge of Benjamin (42:37-38). Reuben also fails in the part he attempts to play in the brothers' plot against Joseph. While his proposal that Joseph should not be killed but thrown into a pit is accepted, his plan to later rescue him and restore him to his father is confounded when Joseph, at Judah's suggestion, is sold to the Ishmaelites (37:21-22, 29).

2. Simeon and Levi

Those next inline for leadership, were the brothers born after Reuben, Simeon and Levi. They were disqualified however because of their role in the killing of the population of Shechem. To be sure, all Jacob's sons took part in the plan to trick the inhabitants of Shechem after their sister Dina had been raped by the son of its ruler, Hamor, and make them vulnerable to attack, and all shared in the spoils. Nevertheless, it was Simeon and Levi who did the actual dirty work: "On the third day, when [the Shechemites] were in pain, Simeon and Levi, brothers of Dina, took each his sword, came upon the city unmolested, and killed every male. And they put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword, and took Dina out of Shechem's house and went away" (Gen. 34:25-26). And what was Jacob's reaction? "Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, 'You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; I am few in number, so that if they gather against me and smite me, I and my household will be destroyed" (v. 30). Jacob in his testament, specifically rejects Simeon and Levi as possible leaders: "Simeon and Levi are brothers, their weapons are tools of lawlessness. Let not my person enter their council, or my being be joined to their company; for they have slain a man in their anger and lamed an ox at their pleasure. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their wrath, so relentless; I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel" (Gen. 49:5-7).

3. Joseph

Joseph stands head and shoulders above his brothers: he is brilliant, wise, honest, righteous -- a leader from birth. In qualities and morals he was undoubtedly superior to his brothers; for he was willing to suffer and even die for the sake of his principles. He also enjoyed a special status as the first-born of one of Jacob's principal wives (Rachel, the wife he loved best). In every way he is fit to be the leader, but he has one major drawbacl: he is not acceptable to his brothers. In his youth--whether it was his own fault or not--he is hated by them, and even when, as the Egyptian vice-regent, he deals kindly with them and speaks soothingly to them he is still isolated, and they suspect his good faith and his intentions (see Gen. 45:3; 50:15-21). He therefore cannot be accorded tribal leadership. His fate is to be a counselor who comes second only to the king in a foreign court. He is a great man, but not among his own people!

4. Judah

In the struggle for leadership it is Judah who prevails. What does he do to achieve it, and what makes him worthy of being the progenitor of the royal house of David? He may be a decent human being, but he is certainly not a saint. We never hear of his risking his life for the sake of something in which he believes, nor is he a genius like Joseph. But he has other qualities which make him fit to lead. Unlike Joseph, he is acceptable to his brothers--a practical man, sensible and vigorous, a man with charisma. He undergoes three tests of character and emerges from each with honor, until it is clear that he is entitled to the leadership.

a. The first test: Judah's role in the selling of Joseph

Reuben suggests that Joseph should be thrown into a pit: "Do not shed blood, throw him into that pit out in the wilderness (Genesis 37:22)."3 He says this in order to save Joseph and take him home to his father, but although his intention is good it is impractical. If he were to succeed in restoring Joseph to Jacob he would become embroiled with his brothers, who would lose all faith in him. Similarly, he would perpetuate the unhealthy family situation: the tension between Joseph and the other brothers would remain and would, no doubt, eventually worsen to the point of murder.

Judah's suggestion is simple and much more workable, and it is adopted at once: "What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites,but let us not touch him ourselves, for he is our brother, our own flesh'." This straightforward proposal is phrased in an original and persuasive manner. First of all, we shall not gain anything financially from killing Joseph. Second, he is our brother, and there is no greater sin, nor any greater cruelty, than killing a brother.4 Instead, let him be sold to the Ishmaelites. Three goals are thereby achieved: the brothers will avoid bloodshed; they will earn a good sum of money which they can share; and the family will be permanently rid of a pest: i.e. the element that creates strain will disappear and the household quieten down. Finally, in this way Joseph's conceit will meet its punishment. And so, at once, the Torah records "his brothers agreed to him."

Here Judah seizes leadership, gives practical advice of the lesser-of-two-evils type. His behavior can hardly be called gallant, but unlike Reuben he does not operate by tricking his brothers but by making a suggestion which he can stand by honorably and with credibility. In the knowledge that it would be useless, he does not attempt to oppose his brothers, but exploits the situation--the chance passing of the Ishmaelites--and acts quickly and decisively.

b. The second test: the affair of Tamar

Judah takes Tamar as a wife for his first-born son Er, and Er dies without issue. He gives his second son, Onan, to her in a levirate marriage (according to the law by which a man must marry his brother's childless widow, to give her children), and Onan too dies. What should Judah do? The law states that he should arrange a levirate marriage for Tamar with his youngest son, Shelah, but he is afraid that Shelah too will die: "Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, 'Stay as a widow in your father's house until my son Shelah grows up', for he thought, Lest he too die like his brothers'" (Gen. 38:11). If Judah were as righteous as Joseph, he might possibly admit to Tamar outright that she will never be married to Shelah, but he does not. Out of human weakness, he acts deceitfully and immorally.5 But it is hard to condemn him: every affectionate father would do the same in his situation. However, he piles one sin on top of another, for when it emerges that Tamar is pregnant (which can only be as the result of fornication), without batting an eyelid he orders her to be burnt.

On the way to her execution, Tamar sends Judah his signs of office (given by him to her when, not knowing who she was, he slept with her), " Judah recognized them, and said, 'She is more in the right than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son" (Ge. 38:26). As a result, his son Peretz is born, and it is from Peretz that the dynasty of David arises. Here we see Judah's greatness as a leader: he admits the mistake which he has made and does not attempt to justify himself, although he has acted under constraint and without much alternative. He accepts full responsibility both for his actions and for his shortcomings.

c. The third test: responsibility for Benjamin in Egypt

Once again Judah's leadership stands out clearly. He succeeds in persuading Jacob, who is afraid that if Benjamin is sent down to Egypt he will lose him, to entrust Benjamin to him: "Send now the boy with me, and let us be on our way, that we may llive [since they will be able to buy food in Egypt] and not die, both we and you and our little children." Can this simple and reasonable suggestion be refused? Judah goes on, "I, myself, will be his guarantor; you may demand him of me. If I do not bring him back to you ... then I will have sinned against you forever" (Gen. 43:8-10).6 And his father, Jacob who found himself unable to rely upon Reuben, entrusts Benjamin to Judah. Trustworthiness and strength: these are the two qualities which particularly distinguish Judah. To him may one's dearest possession be entrusted! And when the test comes and Joseph seeks to imprison Benjamin, Judah once again assumes a leading role and in a moving and well-composed speech offers himself as a slave in Benjamin's place (Gen. 43:33). Here, then, is an example of a leader who accepts responsibility and stands by his promises.

d. Judah's selection through Jacob's will

In his will, the Patriarch Jacob recognizes Judah's undisputed leadership and explicitly assigns kingly dominion to him: "Judah, you shall your brothers praise yodukha. Your hand shall be on the nape of your enemies, the sons of your father shall bow low to you. A lion's whelp is Judah; from the prey, my son, have you gone up" (Gen. 49:8-9). Taken in its simplest sense, Jacob's blessing means that Judah's brothers will acknowledge his leadership.7 He will put his enemies to flight, and for this reason all his brothers will be willing to accept his authority He is compared to a young lion returning to his den after taking his prey (Luzzatto).

But it is the Aramaic translation of Onkelos, which reflects the homiletic insights of the Sages, that best expresses the general spirit of these verses. Onkelos senses the presence of allusions to two of the cardinal tests in Judah's life, on account of which he was vouchsafed the leadership. Thus Onkelos understands "Judah, you shall your brothers praise (literally also "acknowledge") as a reference to Judah's admission of wrongdoing with regard to Tamar and acceptance of responsibility,8 while he takes "from the prey, my son, have you gone up" as a reference to Judah's part in the sale of Joseph, when he prevented his brothers from killing him.9

It is through the merit of these deeds, by which Judah demonstrated his leadership, that "the scepter shall not depart from Judah"! (Genesis 49:10).

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