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The Realization Of Exile

The Realization Of Exile

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 4:10 p.m.
Torah: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: 37:15-28
Havdalah: 5:14 p.m.


This magnificent Torah reading recounts the denouement of the drama of Joseph and his brothers, with the Grand Vizier of Egypt revealing his true identity in a manner totally devoid of blame or rancor: “And now do not be saddened or angry that you sold me (into slavery). … It was God who sent me before you … to enable you … to remain alive for a great salvation” [Genesis 45:5-8].

Joseph immediately bids his brothers “make haste and go up to my father … to come down to me, not to remain (in Canaan) … lest you and your household perish since there is another five years for the famine” [Gen. 45:10-11].

This seems like a rather strange request. Joseph certainly heard at the knee of his father the importance of the Land of Israel in the lives of the Patriarchs: “Aliyah” was the very first commandment the Almighty gave to Abraham. Indeed, Jacob himself had risked physical danger at the hands of Esau as well as financial ruin when he left Laban’s employ to return to his ancestral homeland. Moreover, Father Jacob is now 130 years old, and he looks and feels even older than his age because of the many tragedies he suffered in his lifetime [Gen. 47:9]. Would it not have been far more logical and sensitive for Joseph, the Egyptian governor, to make a “state visit” to his old father, bringing with him a large supply of provisions and guaranteeing his family regular monthly stipends of grain? In keeping with the tradition of filial respect, Joseph could have easily supported his “Israeli family” from Egypt!

We must always view the stories of the Book of Genesis from two perspectives: on one plane we are held spellbound by a riveting human drama of parents and children, unfolding in accordance with the freely committed actions of the personalities involved, while on another plane, we are allowed to glimpse a Divinely directed march towards salvation developing in accordance with the predestined plan of the Author of History. The “Covenant Between the Pieces” which God entered into with Abraham foretold the necessity for the Children of Israel to experience Egyptian servitude and eventual redemption. Joseph must therefore bring his family to Egypt.

The late Dayan Golditch of London suggested another explanation. He presented the analogy of a son who leaves his parents’ religious home in a burst of desired independence, going off to a distant university and establishing his own residence. Indeed, the son distances himself to such an extent that there is no contact between him and his parents. What kind of rapprochement would suit the parents better, a visit by the son to his parent’s home for a Shabbat or Holy Day, or an invitation (with plane or train tickets included) for the parents to come to his home? Dayan Golditch insists that the latter invitation would gladden the parents’ hearts immeasurably more. After all, knowing the deep religiosity of his parents, the son would hardly invite them to his home if it weren’t kosher, or if he were living with a non-Jewish woman!

Joseph sends his father “tickets,” apparently wishing to impress his father with the fact that he has retained his religious commitments even as an Egyptian leader second only to Pharaoh. That is why, explained Dayan Golditch, the Torah explains that when Jacob “saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him (to Joseph’s home in Egypt), the spirit of Jacob… was revived” [Gen. 45:27].

A third, and in many ways most convincing explanation, is provided by the Ramban (Nahmanides) who suggests that Joseph is not able to send to the Land of Canaan a great deal of food from Pharaoh’s storehouses because Joseph would then be suspected of preparing treasures of gold and silver for himself when he returns to his ancestral homeland! [Ramban on Gen. 45:10]. In other words, Joseph could not allow himself to be vulnerable to the charge of “dual loyalty.”

Rav Meier Simcha of Dvinsk, in his biblical commentary known as the Meshekh Hakhma goes one step further, maintaining that specifically because Joseph still retained his familial religious practices in Egypt, he had to “bend over backwards” and not send large supplies of food outside of Egypt and into Canaan. Joseph had to take special precautions not to seem to be too generous to his people in Canaan lest he be accused of sacrificing the best interests of Egypt.

Added weight is given to this third explanation by the later biblical description of Joseph’s discomfort in seeking to gain permission to bury Father Jacob in Israel: “And Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh saying, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes please speak to the ears of Pharaoh’…” [Gen. 50:4-5]. Joseph was the vice-pharaoh! He certainly could walk into Pharaoh’s office at any time, without the intermediary of a servant or a family member to whisper into Pharaoh’s ear! Apparently, Joseph realized that his father’s desired burial in Israel would anger the despotic Pharaoh, again raising vexing questions of Jewish dual loyalty.

Perhaps it is this realization more than anything else that brings home to Joseph, the grand vizier, that even Egypt is exile, inspiring him to request of his brethren that he, too, must be buried in Israel. In the final analysis, only Israel is the Jewish eternal homeland.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat.


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