Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Vayigash 5775, December 2014: Welcoming

After confronting both Shimon and Yehuda individually, Yosaif identifies himself to his brothers and sends them back to their father Yaakov to bring the entire extended family to Egypt, where Yosaif can provide for them and ensure their safety. To ensure that Yaakov will fully believe the brothers that Yosaif is alive and moreover in control of all national logistical affairs throughout the mighty country of Egypt, he selects specific gifts to evoke memories of the last Torah lessons Yaakov taught him in his youth, when Yaakov accompanied him on the first section of his journey which led to his enslavement and ultimately his rise to power, specifically wagons and calves. Ironically, the brothers are sent home to Yaakov with physical reminders of the laws of the egla arufa, the calf whose neck is broken when a stranger is found dead outside village boundaries when it cannot be determined who is responsible for the death and the nearest population center must as a group take responsibility for not ensuring his safety.  The brothers, who when they saw Yosaif, the outsider among them, plotted themselves together to kill him, to trap him, and eventually just to sell him into slavery as an equivalent to murder, must return to their father with this reminder, and inform him that despite their own insistence years before that Yosaif must be dead, he is in fact alive and well. Chizkuni even writes that Yosaif feared the brothers would in fact refuse to tell Yaakov, and explicitly asked them to have Binyamin be the one to explain to their father if necessary to get around their own complicity and oaths to secrecy.

Why was it necessary for Yosaif to bring Yaakov and all his family to Egypt? Ramban says that had he tried on his own to send enough for all his family in the manner they were accustomed to, the Egyptians would have suspected he was stealing the wealth of their country and sending it to Canaan instead; in fact the Tz'enah Ur'enah says explicitly that Yosaif only sent special gifts with his brothers on their return at Pharaoh's urging. Each brother was given food, changes of clothes, and silver coins.  Finally, Yaakov and all his family and holdings arrive in Egypt. The midrash tells a story also given in the Tz'enah Ur'enah that when Yaakov first met Pharaoh at Pharaoh's palace, there was an idol in the entranceway. Miraculously, when Avraham had approached the Pharaoh of his day, a door had lifted itself up and removed the idol as the tzaddik entered, and this was repeated at Yaakov's arrival. The Jews are allowed to settle in Goshen.
Making guests feel like they belong.
What do we see here? Many of the aspects of hachnasos orchim, the welcoming and care of guests. This mitzvah extends well beyond the occasional invitation to others to join in a Sabbath meal. For it begins with their arrival and entry in the home, which must feel comfortable to them. Their time in the home must be full of nourishment, be it spiritual or edible or educational, whatever was promised and is expected. They must feel at peace and rich spiritually as their visit comes to an end. And finally, we must do all we can to ensure their safe and happy departure, not just so that they will think of us fondly, but so that we are truly fulfilling the mitzvah. I myself remember households in which the woman of the home was so welcoming that when I visited she genuinely made it feel as though it was I who was presenting her with a gift by taking her time and effort from her.

The haftarah of this weeks parsha (from Yechezkel) reminds us just how much this sidra relates to the fulfillment of the preconditions of the coming of Moshiach. Let us all remember what we can do and how fully we must do these mitzvahs to hasten that day! Have a wonderful Shabbos, all.

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