Judah approached him . . . (Genesis 44:18)
Said Rabbi Yehudah: The verb “he approached” (vayigash) implies an approach to battle, as in the verse “So Joab and the people that were with him approached unto battle” (II Samuel 10:13).
Rabbi Nechemiah said: The verb “he approached" implies a coming near for conciliation, as in the verse “Then the children of Judah approached Joshua” (Joshua 14:6).
The sages said: It implies coming near for prayer, as in the verse “It came to pass, at the time of the evening offering, that Elijah the prophet approached . . .” (I Kings, 18:36).
Rabbi Eleazar combined all these views Judah approached Joseph for all three, saying: If it be war, I approach for war; if it be conciliation, I approach for conciliation; if it be for entreaty, I approach to entreat.
Ten times Joseph heard his brothers refer to his father as “your servant” and he did not protest. Because of this, his life was shortened by ten years. (Joseph lived 110 years.)
(Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 39)
[Said Judah to Joseph:] I am more useful than him in every regard: in strength, as a warrior or as a servant.
G‑d deals with man measure for measure: because Judah had sold Joseph into slavery, he was now compelled to offer himself to Joseph as a slave.
The confrontation between Joseph and Judah—to what was this comparable? To an ox who was running about and all animals were fleeing from it, for it was kicking the one and butting the other, until the lion appeared, and the ox retreated. (In Genesis 49, the sons of Jacob are compared to different animals—Naphtali is a gazelle, Dan a serpent, Benjamin a wolf, etc.; Joseph is likened to an ox, and Judah to a lion).
Regarding the encounter between Judah and Joseph it is said: “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out” (Proverbs 20:5). This may be compared to a deep well full of cold and excellent water, but from which no one could drink. Then came one who tied cord to cord and thread to thread, drew up its water and drank, whereupon all drew water thus and drank thereof. In the same way, Judah did not cease from answering Joseph word for word, until he penetrated to his very heart.
Rabbi Chama bar Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani discussed this. Rabbi Chama said: Joseph did not act prudently, for had one of them kicked him, he would have died on the spot. Rabbi Shmuel said: He acted rightly and prudently. He knew the righteousness of his brethren, and reasoned: Heaven forfend! My brothers are not to be suspected of bloodshed.
When Rabbi Elazar would come to this verse, he would weep: “If the rebuke of flesh and blood is thus, how much more so the rebuke of the Holy One, blessed be He!”
(Talmud, Chagigah 4b)
He showed them that he was circumcised, and that he speaks the Holy Tongue.
Such is the liar’s fate: even when he speaks the truth, he is not believed. At first the sons of Jacob lied to their father when they dipped Joseph’s coat in the blood of a goat, and he believed them; but then when they told him the truth, he did not believe them.
(Avot d’Rabbi Nathan, ch. 30)
Joseph gave his brothers a sign to relay to their father: that at the time that Joseph had parted from Jacob, they had been studying the laws of eglah arufah (“the beheaded heifer,” Deuteronomy 21). Thus, although it was Pharaoh who had sent the wagons, the verse says, “When he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent”—for the “wagons” (agalot) of which the verse speaks is a reference to the eglah arufah.
When Jacob sent Joseph to his brothers, he accompanied him on the way. Said Joseph: “Father, turn back, so that I should not be punished for troubling you.” Said Jacob to him: “My son, in this very matter my descendants will blunder, when they do not arrange a proper escort for a traveler and he is killed, and they will have to bring an eglah arufah and proclaim: ‘Our hand did not spill this blood.’”
The principle behind the law of eglah arufah is that a person is responsible also for what occurs outside of his domain—outside of the areas where he is fully in control. When a murdered traveler is found “out in the field,” the elders of the nearest city must go out there and bring the eglah arufah to atone for the crime, although it occurred outside of their jurisdiction; for it was nevertheless their responsibility to send the traveler off with adequate provision and protection.
This is the deeper significance of the message which Joseph sent to Jacob. Father, he was saying, I have not forgotten the law of eglah arufah. I have been exiled from the sacred environment of your home, but I have not allowed my soul to travel to the spiritual no-man’s-land of Egypt without provision; I have not abandoned it to a spiritual death with the justification that “this is outside of my element; I have no way of dealing with this.” After 22 years of slavery, imprisonment and political power in the most depraved society on the face of the earth, I am the same Joseph who left your home on the day that we studied the laws of eglah arufah.
This was the message that “revived the spirit of Jacob their father.”
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Why did he go there? Said Rabbi Nachman: He went to cut down the cedars which his grandfather Abraham had planted in Be’er-Sheva. These cedars were then taken along when the children of Israel left Egypt, and were used for the construction of the Sanctuary in the desert.
For all the years that the children of Israel were in Egypt, Jacob’s cedars served as a link to their past and a promise of their future. “This is not your home,” the growing trees said. “You, like we, hail from a loftier, holier place. And soon you will leave this depraved land, to be reclaimed by G‑d as His people. You will then uproot us from this foreign land and carry us triumphantly to Sinai, where you will construct out of us a dwelling for the Divine Presence in your midst.”
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of G‑d! In every place to which they were exiled, the Divine Presence went with them. They were exiled to Egypt, and the Divine Presence was with them; they were exiled to Babylon, and the Divine Presence was with them; and when they will be redeemed in the future, the Divine Presence will be with them.
(Talmud, Megillah 29a)
When Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with the news that Joseph is alive, they said: If we tell him straightaway, his soul will fly from his body. So they told Serach to play on her harp and sing, “Joseph lives, Joseph lives, and he is the ruler of Egypt,” so that he should absorb the message slowly.
Said Jacob to her: “The mouth that informed me that Joseph lives shall not taste death.” Serach was among those who came out of Egypt, and among those who entered the Land. She was the “wise woman” who handed over Sheva ben Bichri to Joab (II Samuel 20). In the end, she entered paradise alive.
(Sefer HaYashar; Tzeror HaMor)
When Benjamin was brought before Joseph, Joseph questioned him: “Have you a brother?”
“I had a brother, but I do not know where he has gone.”
“Have you a wife?”
“I have a wife and ten sons.”
“What are their names?”
“I named them all after my brother,” said Benjamin. “Bela—he was swallowed up from me; Becher—he was his mother’s firstborn; Ashbel—he was taken away captive; Gera—he became a stranger in a strange country; Naaman—his deeds were seemly and pleasant; Achi—he was my brother; Rosh—he was my superior; Muppim—he was exceedingly beautiful; Chuppim—I did not see his chupah (marriage canopy), and he did not see mine; Ard—he was like a rose-bloom.”
But if you count them, you find only sixty-nine; the seventieth is Yocheved the daughter of Levi, who was born between the boundary walls as they entered Egypt.
(Talmud, Bava Batra 123a)
When they reached the border of Egypt, they added up to sixty-six; together with Joseph and his two sons, they were one less than seventy. What did G‑d do? He entered into the count with them, in fulfillment of what is written, “I will go down with you into Egypt.”
(Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 39)
The word lehorot (“to show the way”) also means “to teach.” Jacob sent Judah to prepare a beit midrash (house of study) for him there, where he would teach Torah, and where the sons of Jacob would read the Torah.
(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)
But Jacob did not embrace Joseph and did not kiss him; our sages tell us that he was reading the Shema.
Why did Jacob choose that particular moment to read the Shema? Because Jacob knew that never in his life would his love be aroused as it was at that moment, the moment of reunion with his most beloved son after twenty-two years of anguish and loss. So he chose to utilize this tremendous welling of emotion to serve His Creator, channeling it to fuel his love for G‑d.
(The Chassidic Masters)
Og (the king of Bashan) was there. So they said to him: “Did you not say that Abraham is a sterile mule who cannot beget children? Here is his grandson with seventy descendants!” Said Og: “This is Abraham himself.” He thought that Jacob was Abraham, since Jacob’s face was identical to Abraham’s. Thus Pharaoh began asking Jacob questions, saying to him: “How many are the years of your life?”
Jacob said to Pharaoh: “The days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and thirty years; few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the lives of my fathers” (47:9)
Most of us are satisfied with reasonable aspirations: develop your mind, make ends meet, live in peace with your neighbors. But then there are those special individuals who derive no satisfaction from personal achievements. For it is total, universal perfection they seek—as long as they inhabit a world where evil and want still exist, they perceive their own selves as deficient and wanting.
Such a man was Jacob. Of the three founding fathers of the Jewish nation, only Jacob’s names (“Jacob” and “Israel”) are synonymous with “the Jewish people.” For Jacob did not live an individual’s life. His earthly life and deeds were but the beginnings of the 35-century mission of Israel to perfect G‑d’s creation.
So Jacob, though he had already surpassed the divinely ordained human lifespan of “one hundred and twenty years,” describes his 130 achievement-filled years as “few and bad.” Though formidable in number, they are wanting in content, for their efforts still await realization. “They have not attained the days of the lives of my fathers,” said Jacob. My grandfather Abraham “grew old; he came with his days”—at the close of his life his days were full, ripe with the fruit of his labors. Isaac too lived a fulfilled life, the life of a “perfect offering.” But unlike my fathers, who closed a cycle of achievement in their physical lifetimes, mine is but an opening chapter in a process that spans history.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
He blessed him that the Nile should rise at his feet and water the land; thus the famine ended after two years (instead of seven).
(Midrash Tanchuma; Rashi)
Until Jacob came down to Egypt, there was famine in the land; after Jacob came, what is written? “Here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land.”
(Tosefta, Sotah 10)
The Hebrew word vayei’achazu (“they took possession of it”) literally means “they took hold of it,” but also translates as “they were held by it.” Both interpretations are cited by our sages: Rashi translates vayei’achazu as related to the word achuzah, “landholding” and “homestead”; the Midrash interprets it to imply that “the land held them and grasped them . . . like a man who is forcefully held.”
This duality defines the Jew’s attitude toward galut (exile). On the one hand, we know that no matter how hospitable our host country may be, and no matter how we may flourish materially and spiritually on foreign soil, galut is a prison in that it dims our spiritual vision, hinders our national mission and compromises our connection with G‑d. For only as a nation dwelling on our land with the Holy Temple as the divine abode in our midst can we perceive the divine presence in the world, fully realize our role as “a light unto the nations,” and fully implement all the mitzvot of the Torah-the lifeblood of our relationship with G‑d.
But we also know that we are in galut for a purpose. We know that we have been dispersed throughout the world in order to reach and influence the whole of humanity. We know that it is only through the wanderings and tribulations of galut that we access and redeem the “sparks of holiness”—the pinpoints of divine potential which lie scattered in the most forsaken corners of the globe.
So galut is an achuzah in both senses of the word: a “holding” to develop, and a “holding pen” we must perpetually seek to escape.
Indeed, it can be the one only if it is also the other. If we relate to galut solely as a prison, we will fail to properly utilize the tremendous opportunities it holds. But if we grow comfortable in this alien environment, we risk becoming part of it; and if we become part of the galut reality, G‑d forbid, we could no more succeed in our efforts to develop and elevate it than the person who tries to lift himself up by pulling upwards on the hairs atop his own head.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)