Parshat Vayigash- Nefarious Shepherds of the Nations

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This week’s d’var torah is dedicated in commemoration of the recent yahrtzeit of my great-grandmother Henrietta Brueckheimer, רחל בת יששכר ע”ה.

(וייטב בעיני פרעה ובעיני עבדיו” (מ”ה:ט”ז”

At the beginning of this week’s פרשה, after יהודה’s climactic confrontation with יוסף, Yosef finally reveals his identity to his brothers, and the news spreads quickly through the house of פרעה. Then, we are informed that “וייטב בעיני פרעה- This news was good in the eyes of פרעה.” As the narrative continues, we see that פרעה is very generous in his offers to יוסף’s brothers as they prepare to leave for ארץ כנען, giving them provisions, chariots, and even offering to replace all of their belongings from Canaan. פרעה is clearly very eager to have the Jewish people in Egypt. Assuming, for a minute, that the Egyptian leader isn’t just happy for יוסף out of the goodness of his own heart (see פרשת לך-לך and the first half of ספר שמות if you are unclear about  פרעה’s מידות), why is it so good for him that יוסף’s brothers are in Egypt? What could he possibly gain from having יוסף’s family brought down to his kingdom?

Ramban answers that פרעה’s discovery of who יוסף’s brothers are adds to יוסף’s legitimacy as viceroy, changing him from an ex-slave and ex-convict to one of the children of Israel, and as we saw last week, יעקב’s family was very well-known and respected. פרעה was happy that his country’s viceroy would be more legitimate in the eyes of his people, and therefore it was ‘good in his eyes’ that יוסף’s brothers were here to verify his identity.

Sforno, learning along the same lines, teaches that פרעה was happy to have יוסף’s brothers in Egypt because he hoped that once Yosef’s brothers would return with the rest of the family and settle in Egypt, יוסף would think of himself as a proper Egyptian, and not an “עברי,” and would be even more devoted to running מצרים properly. פרעה was hoping that יוסף’s brothers’ presence in Egypt would help him become a better ruler, and therefore the news of them coming down to Egypt was ‘good in his eyes.’

It would seem that both Ramban and Sforno believe that בני ישראל’s arrival in Egypt was pleasing to פרעה because it would help יוסף become a better leader by feeling more comfortable staying in and ruling מצרים. While this is definitely possible, there is another idea, brought down by Rav Yosef Dov Solovetchik zt”l, (“The Rav”), which I believe has very interesting implications:
The Rav learns that פרעה was anxious for יוסף’s family to come down to Egypt and generous in providing for their trip because he knew how brilliant of a leader יוסף was, and reasoned that his family, very well-known even in Egypt as we saw above, would also have other members who were also talented, and hoped to push them to join the Egyptian leadership once they arrived in Egypt. In other words, פרעה’s motivation to bring the Israelites in was to impress them into Egyptian National Service. His plan, a prelude to the Jews’ servitude in Egypt, reflects an attitude shown by gentiles to the Jews throughout the ages, accepting them to make use of and take advantage of them. Another obvious example of this is located earlier in פרשת וישלח.

At the end of פרשת וישלח, Yaakov Avinu’s daughter דינה is raped by שכם, prince of the city of שכם. In an attempt to win the Israelites favor so that he could marry דינה, Shechem approaches יעקב and his sons and makes them a very tempting offer: “ואתנו תשבו והארץ תהיה לפניכם שבו וסחרוה והאחזו בה- [Let our nations intermarry and] we will dwell together, we will settle the land together and trade with each other…”. From an economical perspective, this seems like a very sound plan: Yaakov, the father of a very large family, was a foreigner in the land. He had attained material wealth in פדן ערם, but the only way  he could grow that wealth would be through an economic partnership, like the one שכם and חמור offered him. However, when שכם and חמור try to sell this plan to the people of שכם, we see their plan is a little bit different: “מקניהם וקנינם וכל בהמתם הלוא לנו הם- Their flocks and possessions will become ours.” This plan, very different from the one presented to Yaakov and sons, showed שכם and חמור’s true intentions: to integrate with the Israelites and, through this, steal their property, take advantage of their children, violate their daughters, etc. Yaakov and sons, flushed from the indignity of their daughter/sister being violated, realized that שכם’s offer was not genuine, and instead decided to destroy שכם, saving their nation from destruction from the inside.

We see that פרעה’s plan, much like שכם’s, was to bring בני ישראל down to Egypt to take advantage of them, steal their possessions, and force them to work for Egypt. However, unlike the story of שכם, the Jewish people submitted to פרעה’s plan, and once they lost control of their destiny by moving to Egypt, the שעבוד מצרים began.

In this week’s Haftara, יחזקאל הנביא prophesizes the eventual return of the Jewish people to our land, the reunification of the lost kingdom of Israel with the kingdom of Judah, and the return of a legitimate Jewish ruler- a descendant of the Davidic Dyansty. While this הפטרה’s connection to the פרשה is mainly through the theme of a reunification of all 12 tribes as their forebears were reunited in the פרשה, there is one פסוק which connects to our theme of national slavery: “ועבדי דוד מלך עליהם ורועה אחד יהיה לכלם- And my servant David, will rule over them and there will be one shepherd for all of them.” I believe that this פסוק is teaching us that in the future, when the final גאולה is upon us, there will be only one “shepherd” leading us, using us and taking advantage of us: not פרעה, not שכם, but הקדוש ברוך הוא. This will mark the beginning of the גאולה- when the Jewish people will use their economic prowess for their own good, instead of for someone else’s, like יוסף did. This נבואה, received by יחזקאל after the חורבן בית ראשון, but before the גלות בבל, was a great source of נחמה to the Jewish people, for it foresaw a time where they would rule for themselves, without anyone taking advantage of them or their talents or property.

I believe that the time of this נבואה is almost upon us. For the first time in recent history, the Jewish people control our own country in our ancestral homeland. Though there is not yet a descendant of דוד המלך ruling us, there is no doubt that we are using our economic prowess to benefit the Jewish homeland (see פרשת תולדות). All we need now is for the Jews of the exile, currently being extorted by the פרעה and שכם’s of the Twenty First Century, to return to their roots, so that we can bring the גאולה. Through this, we can revert to our destiny of  “רועה אחד”, under the rulership of the משיח בן דוד, and merit the building of the third and final בית המקדש very soon. Shabbat Shalom.