The elements of God’s design for one line of Abraham’s descendants begin to mesh in Parsha Vayigash. He had promised that they would be, at some future point, a great nation, both in reputation and number but, again at some point, they would also live among an alien people, and not in the lands God had promised. There, they would be enslaved and enfeebled. Joseph’s ascendancy to powering Egypt created an opportune environment for the Israelites to settle and begin to expand their ranks. The drought in Canaan gave them reason to go to Egypt.
In the beginning of the Parsha, an emotional Joseph, overwhelmed with emotion by Judah’s plea, at last revealed himself to his brothers, who were, to say the least, shocked at his appearance and quite understandably, fearful for their own safety and well-being; the brother who they had coldly sold into slavery, and almost a sure death, was still alive and now vested with the power over their lives; an unexpected turn of events. Joseph, perhaps strangely, if just for the moment, was not only overcome with positive emotions but was intuitive enough to feel the trepidations that filled the room in his revelation.
Joseph attempted to assuage their fears and in so doing demonstrated his awareness of God’s overall plan and the major part he played in its ultimate fulfillment. He told his brothers, not to be troubled by their perfidy and fear not for the crimes they had committed. for “it was to save lives that God had sent me ahead of you”. Later, in order to reassure his brothers that vengeance did not lie in his heart, he urged on them to accept his destiny and that of their children: “…it was not you that sent me here, but God; He has made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire house, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” so as to “assure your survival in the land and to keep you alive for a great deliverance”. Whatever had transpired between them was part of God’s plan, and they need not worry for playing a part in the divine drama, regardless of the coarseness of their actions.
The Torah then turns its report to Jacob, who immediately set off on the journey to be reunited with the son of his old age, the eldest son of his favourite wife, for whom he still grieved. The Torah described that when Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to convey them to Egypt, his spirit came alive. The text suggests that once the euphoria wore off, Jacob recognized the import of his entire family moving to the land of Egypt, whose practices and beliefs were foreign to those he believed and practiced, and which he had tried to impart to his children. En route, after he had offered sacrifices, God addressed him in a night vision and imparted a message of assurances, revealing to Jacob, that his that this was the time of fulfillment of the third promise made to Jacob’s grandfather: “do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great people there. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will most surely bring you back up as well”. And thus began the Egyptian Exile a necessary precursor for the founding event in Israel’s becoming a true nation of God; the Exodus from Egypt.
The Torah informs us that it was a relatively small group that served as the nucleus; the Torah named and enumerated the men of Jacob’s clan, and provided some limited genealogies, so that we know the Egyptian Exile began with seventy men. Those seventy men planted the seed for the nation of Israel which would leave Egypt over two hundred years later. In order for them to flourish Joseph decided on the most beneficial environment – away from the centres of Egypt in the lands of Goshen. There, they were able to greatly increase in numbers, for as the Torah recalls: “they were fruitful and multiplied greatly”.
Goshen would prove a mixed blessing for the Israelites. They appeared to not only increase in numbers but slowly there different practices and beliefs which were easily maintainable in Goshen, became noticeable to the Egyptians who would one day forget the boon brought to them by Joseph the son of Jacob and turn on the Israelites and fear they that were different. And thus, Israel’s first turn at living as strangers in a strange land, a land not their own, would serve as a paradigm for Israel’s troubled future and the dynamics and aftermath of the Joseph saga would reverberate in the generations that would follow, again and again, and notwithstanding the inevitable, and tragic conclusion.