Parshat Vayigash 5782: Why Shepherds in Goshen vs Assimilation into Egyptian Society?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Vayigash is being co-sponsored by Jonathan and Sarah Wachtel of Ramat Beit Shemesh and by Rabbi Elozer Dovid and Estie Gluck of Sorotskin in Jerusalem and who dedicate this Parshat HaShavua for good health of all of Am Yisrael and B’Ezrat Hashem, the speedy eradication of the corona virus pandemic and all like viruses abd variants. To the Wachtel and Gluck families; blessings and many thanks for your co-sponsorships and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayigash 5782: Why Shepherds in Goshen vs Assimilation into Egyptian Society?

by Moshe Burt

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin introduces a section of his vort on Parshat Vayigah entitled “The First Ghetto” and asks a question in his Sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text” on Sefer Breish’t (pages 254 256):

After the descent of Yaakov’s family to Egypt, Yosef prepares… his brothers for an interview with the Egyptian king. He counsels them to specify that they are shepherds so that Pharaoh will settle them separately in the region of Goshen, “since all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posukim 31-34)

Why does Yosef specifically counsel his brothers to identify themselves with a profession that Egyptians [Mitzriyim] find repulsive?

Various commentators such as the Abravanel and Rabbeinu Bachya who believe that Yaakov is simply trying to ensure that his brothers will be able to continue practicing a beneficial, humble, a “sacred” livelihood (Rabbi Goldin citing Abravanel on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posukim 28-34), yet a profitable profession. Shepherding also provided the opportunity for periodic isolation from civilization and its influences. Through seclusion the shepherd found time for self-examination and spiritual growth. Rabbi Bachya [notes that] many great figures of… [our] history, including Moshe, Shmuel, Shaul and David, were shepherds at some point in their lives. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbeinu Bachya on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posuk 32)

Numerous other commentaries, … see Yosef’s efforts in a totally different light.

Yosef, they claim, instructs his brothers to identify with a profession that will distance them from Egyptian society. Forced to live separately, the members of Yosef’s family and their progeny will have a greater chance of maintaining their own identity.

In the words of the Netziv: “Yosef’s intent was to ensure that his family would dwell apart from Egyptian society. Athough [Yosef’s plan] would cause his father and his brothers to be degraded in Pharaoh’s eyes, nonetheless, all was worth sacrificing to guarantee the preservation of Israel’s sanctity.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ha’amek Davar on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posuk 34)

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch adds: “The disgust of the Egyptians for their [the brothers’] profession… was the first means of preservation of that race [the Jews] which was destined for an isolated path throughout the ages… That is why Yosef acted with the express purpose of obtaining a separate province within which his family would settle.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posuk 33)

…By the time he [Yosef] meets his brothers after their long separation, the Torah states: “Yosef recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 42, posuk 8) Yosef is no longer recognizable as a Hebrew, even to his family. Moved by this knowledge, and apprehending the devastation that would be caused if generation after generation of Hebrews paid this same price, Yosef acts to preserve his family’s identity.

Yosef realizes that for members of his family to retain their status as “strangers and citizens” [as was Avraham’s concern when seeking a wife for Yitzchak] over generations and in the face of an overwhelming Egyptian culture, they would have to live in our people’s first ghetto.

So, this author asks if Rabbi Goldin’s question (above) could be put another way: Why does Yosef specifically counsel his brothers to identify themselves as shepherds so as to be placed in Goshen, at a distance from the Mitzri mainstream, rather than encouraging them to assimilate into Mitzri society? Might Yosef’s perspective on Mitzri society have provided him with an instinct as to what was to come for his descendants and the descendants of his brothers following his passing and the passing of his brothers, and was thus trying to save the next generation through distancing them from the Mitzri mainstream? And might Yaakov have shared that same perception?

Note Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posuk 28:

“He [Yaakov] sent Yehudah ahead of him to Yosef, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen: and they arrived in the region of Goshen.” (rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)

The Artscroll Stone Chumash notes on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 46, posuk 28 (Artscroll Stone Chumash, pages 260-261)

The Midrash… implies that Yaakov dispatched Yehudah to Goshen to establish a house of study. This set a precedent for all of the history of Judaism.

Rabbi Goldin relates similar thoughts to those of Rabbi Uziel Milevsky z’l in his sefer, “Ner Uziel” on Parshat Shemos which were cited by this author several years ago. Rabbi Goldin notes (ibid, pages 256-257):

Yosef’s plans were put to the test.

While the sojourn in Egypt should have been viewed by Yaakov’s family as temporary, the Torah testifies that: “Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen, and they secured a permanent foothold and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 47, posuk 27)

And, although the Jews were meant to remain in Goshen, [after the passing of the generation of Yosef and his brothers] the text continues: “And the B’nei Yisrael were fruitful, multiplied, increased, and became strong… and the land became filled with them.” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Shemot, Perek 1, posuk 7)

Building upon an earlier Midrashic tradition (Rabbi Goldin citing Yalkut Shimoni of Sefer Shemot, Perek 1), the Netziv comments: “They filled not only the land of Goshen which had been especially assigned to them, but the whole of the land of Egypt… Wherever they could purchase a dwelling, there the B’nei Yisrael went… They wished to be like the Egyptians.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Ha’amek Davar on Sefer Shemot, Perek 1, posuk 7)

…In spite of Yosef’s careful planning, the B’nei Yisrael… assimilate[d] into Egyptian culture and society. A tragic pattern emerges — a pattern that is destined to be repeated over and over again across our long national journey. The harder the Jews try to fit in, the more… they try to be like those around them, the more they incur the enmity of their neighbors and set the stage for their own persecution. They were soon enslaved [and persecuted in Egypt].

The lesson of Egyptian enslavement and bondage, and the subsequent pattern repeated throughout our history remains unlearned by the Jews living in Chutz L’Aretz who compromise and rationalize away their Judaism until it is unrecognizable in their fruitless efforts to be like those around them, i.e. “I’m an American first.”

And large segments of Israelis, including, to varying degrees, much of Israel’s governance, police and justice system have similarly compromised and rationalized away their Judaism, their spirituality as they long to be “a nation of all its peoples” in order that they be loved by the nations. The response of the nations is always the same — increasingly violent anti-semitic attacks throughout the world as well as accelerated Arab terror attacks, severe injuries and loss of lives of Jews here in Israel.

In retrospect, we learn that the Yeshiva in Goshen saved lives.
The only Jews who escaped the the enslavement and persecution were the Levi’im who stayed in the Goshen Yeshiva.

Will we ever collectively learn and internalize the lessons which Yosef tried to teach us?

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of seven years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.