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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash| 5771

Parashat Hashavuah: Fear What?

Harav Shaul Yisraeli - from Siach Shaul, pp. 134-135

The Jewish Nation has been traversing a special road on the journey of history, one which began with its patriarchs. Yaakov, as the head of a small nation-in-the-making of 70 people, already finds himself going into exile, an event, like others, that would stand as a prototype and a guide for similar future occurrences to the nation.

Hashem told Yaakov in a dream: “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt” (Bereishit 46:3). This implies that he must have been afraid (Bereishit Rabba 76:1). When Yaakov was afraid prior to his meeting with Eisav, the Torah relates the content of his fear: “… lest he come and smite me, from the mothers to the children.” However, here it is harder to see the danger. Yaakov had been invited by his dear son, the viceroy of Egypt, with the very warm blessing of Pharaoh, to come and be provided from “the choice of Egypt” (ibid. 18-20). The Torah implies that Yaakov was troubled not only by the upcoming separation from the Land of his Fathers, where, at the time, his predicament was precarious. Rather, he was afraid of being in Egypt.

It appears that Yaakov was concerned specifically because of the “open arms” of the Egyptians with which the choice of Egypt was being presented and the spiritual danger that these engendered. We see this from the strong steps the family took to not integrate into general society. The family initiated the formation of the first Jewish ghetto, in Goshen. With Yosef’s blessing and advice, they told Pharaoh how they were capable only of shepherding work, something that was despised by the Egyptians, so that they would be separated (ibid. 34). They preferred this to using Yosef’s position to jettison them into the elite of society.

Indeed, the efforts toward separatism were effective, and they received a place in Goshen. But more importantly, we see that in the long run the emerging nation was able to preserve a special identity over the time of many, many decades. Although they forgot many specific elements of Torah and slipped into idol worship, which was prevalent in Egypt, they were able to preserve distinct Jewish language, dress, and names, which were ultimately responsible for their redemption from slavery to freedom. As Hashem promised Yaakov, “I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will most certainly take you out of there” (ibid.4.)

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