Parsha_Push for Vayigash
Rabbanit Dr. Adina Sternberg
On his way to Egypt, Jacob stops in Beer Sheva and sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. Consequently, God appears to him and states: “Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation”. What does Jacob fear? Why does God need to assure him as he descends?
According to some commentators, Jacob realizes that leaving for Egypt is the first step on the way to activating the divine plan for Israel’s exile. Even if this migration is for immediate social relief, Jacob does not want to rush into the hardship to come. That is why God comforts him and promises that in Egypt Jacob will become a great nation.
Other commentators understand that when Jacob sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac, he is wary of going against his father’s legacy and what his father was commanded. Isaac was commanded, in time of famine, to stay in Israel. Hence, God promises Jacob (as he promised Abraham when commanding him to go to Israel) that he will become a big nation. The promise to prosper doesn’t depend on going to Israel or on staying there. Sometimes the right thing to do is to leave Israel and go to Egypt.
Jacob’s fear, together with God’s assurance, illustrates the constant dilemma of anyone seeking clarity as to what is the “right thing” to do. When is holding onto the land appropriate and when is leaving for a time truer to God’s intent and plans?
The Torah, together with the words of the prophets, supplies us with multiple models of behavior, from the correct reaction to famine in the land of Israel, to the right political decision in light of military threats and territorial alliances. As opposed to our forefathers, we do not have direct access to the word of God, and need to make our own decisions, taking into consideration the different options.
When we pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we remind ourselves daily there is more than one model to deal with each situation. I pray that while the Jewish people in general, and Israeli society specifically, argue over the ideal reaction to our challenges, we keep in mind that the different opinions stem from the diverse guidance our forefathers received. Understanding the variety the Torah presents combined with an abundance of humility, we can strive to bring together the various sons of Jacob.