Some Thoughts on Vayigash

Before getting into the tidbits that I found interesting about this week’s parasha, Vayigash, Genesis 44:18-47:27, * let me briefly recap last week’s thoughts. Remember the main point was that we do not always understand or perceive how good could possibly come from something seemingly bad. However, Joseph to whom the bad had definitely happened, interpreted reality for his brothers in just this way.

“Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” … “God has sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.”

Genesis 45:5 & 7-8

I am going to take a little poetic license at this point as say that the reason Joseph could articulate this point so well, is that he had already worked it out for himself. He had resolved the issue and truly understood that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I am going to go a step further and remind us all that HaShem’s purposes will be worked out for the good, which may not necessarily be our own thoughts, plans and purposes. Thus, it typically works out better if we do our best to follow his plans than if we try and figure out ways to get him to follow ours.

Now on to this week’s thoughts. At the beginning of Genesis 46 Jacob sets out for Egypt with his whole family, servants, and possessions expressly to see the son that for more than ten years Jacob thought was dead. It is noteworthy that this journey begins with another divine communique. I say another because during Jacob’s life he received at least five divine communiques before this one. Consider too that each divine communique relates to Jacob’s entering or leaving the promised land. 

The first communique (Genesis 28:12-17) was given as Jacob was fleeing his homeland for Paddan-Aram in search of a wife, as well as avoiding Esau’s wrath. The communique included a promise of care and provision for Jacob during his travels. The second one (Genesis 32:1) occurred some twenty years later when Jacob returned to the land of his birth, and the third (Genesis 32:24-31), when he was making final preparations to reconnect with his brother Esau. In this communique Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. The fourth communique was short (Genesis 32:1); Jacob was to move on from Shechem back to Beth El where he had received the first communique. At Beth El Jacob received the fifth communique, the reaffirmation of the covenant promised to Abraham and Isaac as well as reaffirming his name change to Israel (Genesis 35: 9-12). Finally, we come to communique number six. HaShem states,

“Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here (am I).” And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

Genesis 46:2-4

It is important to note that the first and the last communiques came as Jacob was leaving the land for the diaspora, first to Paddan-Aram and then to Egypt. The first ended with HaShem’s promise to bring Jacob back to the land, “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). The last ended with a reciprocal promise to bring Jacob back to the land after his death, “I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:4). 

So, what is the purpose of this review of Jacob’s divine communiques? They remind us that from the beginning to the ending of Jacob’s life HaShem was there caring and providing for him. HaShem, through Moses, reiterates this promise to Jacob’s descendants after their exile in Egypt was over and they were preparing to enter the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,

“Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for the LORD your God Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

In the Apostolic Writings in his closing exhortations to his readers, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews echoed these words to those who were followers of Messiah Yeshua

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6 **

Looking back over Jacob’s life and travels, it would seem that he sometimes forgot that the LORD was truly his helper. But that’s okay, if we were to look back on our own lives and travels, we would discover that there were times that we too forgot. We need to remind ourselves daily, whether we have received divine communiques like those of Jacob or not, that HaShem is with us and has promised never to leave us – even when the road seems to be rough. And when those rough times come, and they will come, we need to say with confidence, “The LORD is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

* Unless otherwise noted, as Tanakh readings are from The Jewish Study Bible 2nd edition. Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler. New York, Oxford University Press, 2004 & 2014.

** Unless otherwise noted, the readings from the Brit Chadasha are from The Jewish Annotated New Testament 1st edition. Edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine. New York, Oxford University Press, 2011.

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