I hope that you are all doing well. This week’s parsha, Vayigash, is the culmination of the entire Joseph story, full of drama and excitement (and I always find myself singing some of the ditties from the musical at this time of year!). There are many connections to Chanukah, which always comes at the same time. There are deep insights into family dynamics, assimilation, leadership and identity.
Hidden at the end of the story however, might be one of the more meaningful moments for us today, but it is very easy to miss. Rashi picks up on it, but his answer is technical, and most of the major commentators don’t make any mention of it.
Chapter 46 opens with Jacob beginning the journey down to be reunited with his son Joseph in Egypt. After stopping in Beer Sheva and offering sacrifices, Gd appears to Jacob and makes a powerful promise to him, telling him not to fear the descent to Egypt and that Gd will certainly bring him up from there (46:4), which both serves as a personal promise to Jacob/Israel, but also has a hint of the promise of redemption from Egypt that we will learn about in the Exodus story. Verse 6 tells us how they all ‘came’ to Egypt in the past sense and every year I sigh at these words. Yes, Gd already told Abraham (Gen 15:13-14) that he and his descendants would be ‘strangers in a strange land’, but they would be redeemed. And we also know that it is precisely the experience in Egypt that helps transform this family of 70 into a Nation. Nevertheless, something about knowing what is to befall the descendants of Jacob in Egypt, and the horrors of slavery cause me to pause and sigh every year.
Perhaps it is also the weight of knowing that a few short months we will sit together at the Seder table and declare that in every generation we must see ourselves as if we ourselves are coming out of Egypt, and we are called upon to do our own inner work and explore what our own personal Egypt is (remember Hevroni in the Negev??), and that is difficult work, that begins now.
But it is verse 8, and Rashi’s comments that are most striking.
The verse seems innocuous enough, as the beginning of another list: “Now these are the names of the children of Egypt that are coming to Egypt–Jacob and his children.”
Did you catch it? What is striking here?
The verb in the verse is remarkably in the present. They are coming *right now* down into Egypt! Rashi tells us not to be surprised since this is simply a narrative technique to write in the present tense, for that is where we are in the story.What doesn’t make sense to me is that 2 verses earlier, the text had no problem writing it in the past tense.
So what can we learn here? And what if, despite Rashi’s encouragement, I am surprised?
Friends, we are all on the road into the darkness of Egypt. We are blessed to know that we will come out. We have two major questions to ask ourselves at this very moment:
1) How much of the Light of Chanukah have I brought into my life, to illuminate my path. In other words, what are the tools and skills that I have developed to be a source of strength and inspiration for me when the going gets rough?
2) Knowing that we will be coming out, what are the things that we need to learn down there? What new skills and tools do we need to develop that will help us manifest our dreams and purpose when we come out. We are not going there just to suffer, we are going to grow. One of my teachers, when looking at the current situation here in Israel asks–what have we learned in the 2000 years of separation from our Home that we need to be doing better now that we have returned?
Friends, it is very strong the verse is written in the present tense. I invite you all to take a moment to reflect on these two questions, and find blessing in the struggles that lay before us, for they can make us stronger, better, and equipped to most effectively make a better tomorrow!