Monday, December 13, 2010

Va'yigash Parsha notes

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>>Click to read my Parsha Notes on Va'Yigash

Famous Ramban
(1) In a furious post, I mean comment, the Ramban eviscerates the ibn Ezra's view on hidden miracles in general, and the identity of the 70 persons who went down to Egypt, in particular. The philosophical ramifications of their argument are too long to recount in this format; briefly Ibn Ezra says that Jacob is included in the seventy, while the Ramban (following Rashi and the midrash) says the seventieth person is Moshe's mother Jocheved. The best bits? The Ramban's seemingly snide* reference to the Ibn Ezra as "that Chochem" and his belief that his answer to the Ibn Ezra was like "boiling gold poured down [the ibn Ezra's] throat." (*It sounds snide to my late modern ears; I don't have any idea how it might have sounded 800 years ago.)

(2) In a much calmer comment, the Ramban attacks Rashi's apparent belief that Hebrew was a private language spoken by Abraham's family alone, arguing that Hebrew was "a Canaanite language" See here, here, and here.

Judah's speech, and the Teshuva it demonstrates
At the beginning of the parsha Judah completes the speech he began at the end of Miketz. If you read between the lines (ala Alter, et al) it's clear that this speech is "an expression of profound inner change" and that the man who allowed his resentment of his father's favoritism to get the better of him no longer exists.

16: And Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God has found out your servant's crime
On the surface he refers to the crime of stealing the cup, but it's logical to presume he is also thinking of Joseph: earlier, when Shimon was detained, the brothers understood it as a punishment for what they'd done two decades earlier. I suppose the same thought is on his mind now, too.

20: And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him.
Twenty years earlier, Judah and his brothers resented their father's favoritism toward Joseph - and acted on that resentment. Now Judah appears content with the fact that Benjamin is the best loved son.

22 And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die.
When they sold Joseph, the brothers displayed no concern for their father; that attitude, too, seems gone.

27 And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons:
In the quote, Jacob is speaking as if Rachel was his only wife; by quoting his father's word without comment or change, Judah appears again to have accepted his father's favoritism.

33 Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
The same Judah who conceived of the idea of selling Joseph, is now willing to sell himself to protect his father's favorite.

34 For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.
The cold indifference to his father's feelings that made the sale possible also seems to have evaporated.

What about the wagons?
Joseph sent his father wagons - to remind him, the midrash says, of Eglah Arufa --the last bit of Torah he and his father studied together. How so? The temptation is to say that wagon (agalah) puns on calf (egel) and that this pun served as a reminder of "Eglah Arufa." This is plausible, but superficial. "Eglah erufah" refers to a sacrifice brought by town elders who were negligent in protecting travellers. How exactly they were negligent is a matter of debate, but some say the basic requirement was to provide travellers with an escort between cities. Per the Kli Yakar, Joseph sent his father more than one wagon for the purpose of providing him with the protection of an escort. There is very good textual evidence that the custom of escorting guests was well established in Jacob's family - indeed the verse says Jacob provided Joseph with an escort when his son left on the fateful trip to see his brothers in Shchem. The wagons, therefore, were not a reminder of a final Torah study session, but of an important family custom, one that relates directly to "Egla Arufa" and one specifically  practiced by Jacob at the moment of his parting from his son.

At their reunion, Joseph gives his brothers garments, an act that stands in direct opposition to how his brothers stripped him of his coat at their original separation. (Alter)

When Jacob begins his journey to Egypt, the Lord appears to him with words that are an exact verbal parallel to the words used at the beginning of the Akaydat Yitzchak story. This may suggest that the sojourn in Egypt, like the Akeida, is an ordeal that will ultimately have a good ending. (Amos Finklestein)

Two way Torah
(1) Rashi says that Joseph "fell on Jacob's neck and... [also] wept on his neck a very long while" while Jacob silently said the Krias shma. Ramban says it was Jacob who did the weeping, while Joseph stood quietly.

(2) Did Joseph (47:2) bring Pharaoh his five weakest brothers or his five strongest bothers? And who were they? Much disagreement on both questions among the commentators. Alter points out that five is a magic number in this story: Benjamin's receives a fivefold position at Joseph's table, and five changes of clothing. The Egyptians later pay a tax of one-fifth, and five is half the number of brothers who sold Joseph.

Historical Anomaly:
(1) Rashi claims Joseph proved his identity by revealing his circumcision, but earlier Rashi told us that Joseph had ordered every Egyptian to become circumcised. So what did it prove that the Egyprian regent was circumcised, too? Moreover, there is plenty of extrabiblical and biblical evidence that Egyptians practiced this rite. The least convoluted resolution of the contradition within Rashi is provided by the Chizkuni who says that Egyptians didn't practice p'riah, and that Joseph order was directed only at the poor. This explains why Joseph's circumcision might have been unique, or why it was unusual to see a circumcised aristocrat.

(2) Gen 46:34 claims that "every shepherd is abhorrent to Egypt" but later (47: 6) we see Pharaoh had his own flocks. There is also no extra-biblical evidence that Egyptians opposed shepherding. Alter suggests that Joseph is not speaking of shepherds as a profession, but of semi-nomadic people in general. The claim that "every shepherd is abhorrent to Egypt" should therefore be understood as a statement of urban snobbery toward more rural people.

ArtScroll Anomaly
Twice in parshas va'yigash we're told that Yaakov did something to Pharoh. Both times the Torah uses the word va'yivorech. Both times ArtScroll translates it as "blessed." This puzzles.

Gen 47: 11 Then Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded

Ramses is the city later built by the Israelite slaves. Perhaps this is foreshadowing.

Pharaoh asks Jacob his age, and Jacob answeres with a complaint. For this he was punished with a loss of years from his life. Lesson: A Jew can't be depressed.

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