Parshat Vayigash: The Weekly Torah Portion Explained (VIDEO)

12/29/2011 05:55 pm ET | Updated Feb 28, 2012

Editor's note: The Weekly HuffTorah Portion is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. It also gives me a chance to re-read some endlessly fascinating tales. At press time, God could not be reached for comment. Read the full text of Parshat Vayigash with interlinear Hebrew/English.

Judah approaches him -- God, Joseph, himself, all -- and begs: "Please! My master! I have something to say. Please listen. Please don't be mad, my master."

He recounts the travels, tribulations and investigations he and his brothers experienced of late. How the mysterious, dignified Egyptian official asked about his father. How he instructed them to bring their youngest brother. How their father begged them to involve Benjamin. How he relented. How they returned. How the mysterious Egyptian vowed to enslave Benjamin.

"And I'm responsible. You can't take my brother. For the sake of my father, you can't. Take me as a slave instead. Spare him."

Joseph Then Revealed His Mask And Caused A Mighty Stir

"Out! All of you!"

Before Judah and the other brothers, the vizier sends all present Egyptians from the room. He can't bear the possibility of humiliation. And he can't bear remaining hidden. Judah has stirred something in the man. He weeps. He wails. All the Egyptians, now out of the room, hear the outpouring.

"I am Joseph!" he screams. "Is my father still alive?"

Joseph's brothers are speechless in shame. He draws them closer, consoles them: "I am your brother. And yes, you sold me into slavery. But do not be ashamed. Do not beat yourselves up. You were and are part of God's plan. I had to come down to Egypt. Thank you! Now, go to our father. Tell him: 'God has made Joseph a master over all Egyptians. Come to Egypt with all that you have. I will sustain you here.'"

The brothers just blink back. Speechless.

"Am I not speaking to you in Hebrew? Please, quickly, bring my father," Joseph says, and falls in tears onto the neck of Benjamin.

And over in Pharaoh's house, the royal subjects are atwitter: "Joseph's brothers have arrived! Joseph's brothers are here!"

Pharaoh is pleased. Elated even. To Joseph he says, "Send your brothers down to your father with grain-laden wagons. Then, they should all return here together. They can settle in Goshen. It is the best land in Egypt. It is still fertile. It is for your family. This is my command. I am Pharaoh."

Joseph tells all of this to his brothers and gives them all new sets of clothes before sending them off. To Benjamin, he gives the most and the best. And he sends them with many donkeys, backs loaded with local delicacies for Jacob.

"All of that is in the past," Joseph says, "Leave your worries here." And he sends them off to Canaan, to the land of their father.

A Song I Heard The Prophetess Sing

Now, Jacob sits in a gloomy tent. He sulks like a forsaken son. He sulks for his lost son.

A caravan is approaching, but nothing in him stirs. His sons arrive and tell him all that has occurred: "Joseph is alive!" But still, his heart holds its breath. He does not believe. He sinks back into his sulking. He is empty of vision. He is nothing.

Jacob's sons leave the tent. Wonder what to do. One of them, Asher, calls his daughter into the circle: "Serach, we need your help. Your grandfather will not listen to us. Our brother, Joseph, is alive. We've seen him. Talked to him. Please tell our father. Make him believe."

And so Serach approaches the tent, wondering, wondering, waiting, waiting to know how to tell Jacob the news. Serach enters the tent with an empty mind, stands before Jacob, her lost and grieving grandfather. And what does she do? She opens her mouth and sings. And now Jacob's heart is opened. His soul stirs. The vision fills him. Joy returns. He blesses Serach. And it is said she lived forever after.

Says Israel: "My son is alive! Let me see him before I die!"

And he goes. With all of his possessions, he goes. In Beer-sheba he makes an offering to God, and in the night God appears before him, saying, "Jacob, Jacob."

"Here I am," Jacob says.

"I am God. Do not be afraid. All I said before is still true. And I will go down into Egypt with you. And I will come up with you, too. And Joseph will outlive you."

A Thousand Barefoot Shepherds Outside

It's said that 70 souls go down into Egypt with Jacob. Judah leads everyone to Goshen, where Joseph instructed them to go. And Joseph, hearing that his father has arrived, points his chariot in that direction.

And Joseph sees Jacob. He falls on his neck and weeps.

"I could die, and it would be OK," Jacob says, "For I have again seen your face. For you are alive!"

Joseph gathers his family and tells them, "I will tell Pharaoh that you are all shepherds and you've brought your animals. If he asks, tell them you are shepherds. You will stay here unharmed for shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians."

He selects his five weakest brothers, and presents them to Pharaoh.

"What is your occupation?" he asks the men.

"We're shepherds. We've come to sojourn in Goshen. May we settle there?"

"Fair enough! Settle in Goshen. Ply your trade. And if there are some among you who are truly capable, you may oversee my own sheep."

And Joseph brings his father to meet Pharaoh. Jacob greets the Egyptian king.

"How old are you?" Pharaoh asks.

And Jacob: "I've been wandering and wondering for 130 years. Compared to the wonderful wanderings of my father, my life has been miserable. In any case, you should be blessed that the Nile will water your land." And he leaves.

The house of Israel settles in Goshen, and Joseph provides amply for them.

Two years before this, there was no food in the land. The people brought Joseph all their money, which he gave to Pharaoh in exchange for bread. And then there was no more money in the land, so Joseph instructed them to bring their livestock. The people brought all of their animals, which Joseph exchanged for grain. And then there was nothing in the land, and the people came to Joseph with only their heavy words.

"I will buy your land," Joseph told them, "and you can farm there." And he gave them food in exchange for their pleas.

And Joseph moved the people from plot to plot, from plow to plow. And they knew that they were slaves, but they were grateful. And Joseph instituted a law that one-fifth of all farmland belongs to Pharaoh.

And the children of Israel settled in Goshen and bought property there. The land was fertile and their numbers grew rapidly.

Questions for Reflection

What is it about Judah's final plea that causes Joseph to finally reveal his identity?

Why does Joseph send the Egyptians from the room before revealing his identity?

How is Serach able to convince her grandfather that Joseph is alive?

Why does Joseph present his five weakest brothers to Pharaoh?

Why does the end of portion flash back to two years prior?

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection: