Vayigash 5783 – Wholeness (Not Perfection

By: Michael Carr

If we zoom out for a moment on Genesis there are any number of injustices that highlight the first book of Torah.  For example: Cain kills Abel and walks; Lots daughters rape their father; Abraham lies about his wife twice, attempts to sacrifice his son, and becomes a patriarch; Jacob deceives his own family members and becomes the father of a nation; and Tamar acts like a prostitute, sleeps with her father-in-law Judah, and becomes the progenitor of David! Oh my – kind of draws one in and makes you want to ‘tune in’ for upcoming episodes.

Heading back down to earth and zooming back in on today’s parsha we find that Joseph frames his forgiveness (not revenge) of his brothers as G-d’s plan. It’s a plan of evolution to save Jacob’s family as well as future generations of Israelites. Joseph, in spite of his brothers jealousy, (remember, they thought Joseph was THE favored son of Jacob), the plan was actually put into motion by G-d to save Joseph,  his brothers, the entire extended family of Jacob and future generations of Israelites.

What hidden meaning can we discover beneath all of this drama? Perhaps it’s that many of the patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets were imperfect and flawed humans. Sometimes they found justice through the injustices of the day. Such is the case with Joseph.

In Vayigash, it is noted that Joseph is second in command of Egypt under Pharaoh and he believes that one of his many purposes where G-d directs him is saving lives.  Of course there’s nothing unjust about that.  The dream sequence alone that caused his ascendance foretold the prophecy of what was to come.

As we know Joseph, with the support of Pharaoh, also reconciles with his brothers and ultimately reconnects with his dad Jacob. In fact, at the direction of Joseph, Jacob gets all 70 family members together, and moves to Egypt.  The family reunites, settles in Goshen, the Children of Israel flourish, until, slavery envelopes the Israelites and it’s time to leave again. But hold on…what may have transpired under Joseph during his time with the Pharaoh possibly whose name was Sesostris II?

We find out, to Josephs credit, he advises Pharaoh to take one-fifth of the harvest during the seven years of abundance and let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine that was to follow.

Historically, it is also mentioned in Genesis that during the seven years of abundance the harvest was so plentiful that what Joseph collected was too much to be measured. Joseph used the reserve to feed the people during the seven years of famine.

Unfortunately, at the end of the famine Joseph’s economic policy led to  acquiring the people and their land for Pharaoh. Some accounts indicate the Egyptians became slaves to Pharaoh while other historical interpretations indicate the Egyptians become Serphs so they would not be a burden upon the Pharaoh’s coffers or tills, and subsequently, Pharaoh would continue to collect one-fifth of their produce going forward.

Why wouldn’t this appear to be a perfect solution?  The Egyptians were thankful for Pharaoh saving their lives and they were willing to voluntarily give up (or sell) their land and become indentured servants to Pharaoh in appreciation/gratitude for their salvation. This is a somewhat ominous foretelling of course for what was to come for the Egyptians and Israelites under a new Pharaoh who did not know of Joseph.

Turning to the community in Goshen, we can assume that Jacob and his family were fruitful and multiplying, while enjoying land ownership and the crops/livestock that they raised. That is until the new Pharaoh (Ramses II) took over and we have a good idea on what follows.

While there is much to ‘unpack’ here both economically, politically and spiritually, for Joseph, we can only assume this was not a perfect solution, though certainly a sustainable solution guided by G-d and endorsed by Pharaoh on behalf of Egyptian society. 

Let’s remember that Joseph started out as a herdsman of sheep or cattle. He was not seeking perfection of his ‘art’ like an air traffic controller, cardio vascular surgeon or a mach one race car driver. Heck he was counting sheep (or cattle). And as viceroy of Egypt he was focused on saving Egyptian society while building a just and verdant Israelite future under the direction of G-d while leveraging Pharaoh’s capital.  Wholeness – not perfection.

Seth Godin states that, “Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable”. Perhaps like saving lives and achieving ‘wholeness’.

Good Shabbos!