Rabbi Dror Brama Former Rosh Kollel in London
Sometimes, man or nation travel through history but their narrow perspective does not allow them to see the abyss at the end of the road. There are cases in which there seem to be many warning signs but still man continues to walk in the path that will lead him to definite suffering and agony.
In our Parasha, it seems that the Torah presents us with such a case: Yosef reveals himself to his brothers and suggests that they bring their father and family to Egypt. Yosef’s reasoning is shortsighted: “You will reside in the land of Goshen and you will be near to me, you, your sons, your grandchildren, your flock and your cattle, and all that is yours. And I will provide you there, for there will be five more years of famine, so you do not become destitute, you, your household, and all that is yours.” In the land of Canaan there is a terrible famine, the only way to save Yisraels’ family for the next five years was by taking advantage of Yosef’s position in Egypt as in charge of the food in Egypt.
However, in parallel to Yosef’s suggestion, Pharaoh comes up with a totally different plan:
“And Pharaoh said to Yosef: ‘Say unto thy brothers: Do this: load up your animals, and go, get you unto the land of Canaan. Bring your father and your households, and come unto me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat the fat of the land. And you are commanded, Do this: Take for yourselves from the land of Egypt wagons for your little ones, and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. And let your eyes not take pity on your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt-it is yours.”
Pharaoh does not suggest, he commands. He is not looking to save Ya’akov from the famine, he commands to bring the entire family and adds an important word “bring your father and your households” -Pharaoh wants Yosef’s family in Egypt. He promises them the best of the land, however, his intentions are not pure. “Let them settle in the region of Goshen, and if you know that there are capable men among them, appoint them as chamberlains over the livestock that belongs to me.” It is good to have people like Yosef close to me, under my supervision.
From Ya’akov’s perspective, things are much more complex. He remembers the covenant between Hashem and his grandfather Avraham, “your offspring shall be aliens in a land not their own-and they will serve them, and they will oppress them- four hundred years.” (Genesis,15) Now is the first time that an entire family from Avraham s’ descendants is going to live in a foreign country for a long period of time. Is it now that the terrible prophecy is beginning to come true?
Ya’akov hears his sons’ words but does not hurry to go down to Egypt. The Torah describes his reaction in the following pasuk: “So Yisrael set out all that he had and he came to Beer-Sheba where he slaughtered sacrifices to the God of his father Yitzchak.” Why did Ya’akov go to Beer-Sheva?
Why did he sacrifice to the God of his father Yitzchak and not to his God or to the God of Avraham and Yitzchak?
The Midrash in Bereshit Raba 73,4 answers the first question as follows:
“So Israel set out all that he had and he came to Beer-Sheba where did he go Rav Nachman said he went to uproot the Cedar trees that Avraham planted in Beer-Sheba as it says in Genesis 21 “he planted” and the middle bar in the pieces of wood Rav Levi says and the middle bar had 32 amah in it where did they find it for that specific time they were hidden from the time of Ya’akov our ancestor and anyone who had Acacia trees it says Asher nimza Ito and not Asher yimaze ito (who has and not who had)…”
Ya’akov went to Beer-Sheva to uproot the Cedar tree that Avraham planted and to take it with him to Egypt so that his descendants will have the proper tree to build the middle bar for the Mishkan.
What does this Midrash mean?
Ya’akov understands that he may be doing the first step towards a difficult exile. The Cedar tree that Avraham planted in Beer-Sheba represents the relationship to the land in a peace covenant with the non-Jews and the call in Hashems’ name. Ya’akov is going to uproot this tree, to uproot the family from its roots, but with a long-term plan- to build the middle bar.
The Mishkan was made from many boards of wood covered with gold. The piece that connected all the boards and turned the Mishkan into one building was the middle bar (Bri’ach Tichon). In a torn family, in the middle of a famine, Ya’akov sees that the abyss has a purpose: to create one nation, to connect mutual fate and destiny.
Why was the sacrifice to the God of his father Yitzchak?
Reish Lakish explains in the Midrash there: “he sacrificed for the covenant of the tribes”.
Avraham rejected Yishmael and chose Yitzchak. Yitzchak tried to keep Eisav in the family and only because of Rivka’s suggestion Ya’akov received his blessings. Ya’akov asks for the Acacia covenant, for the connection of all his children to the Fathers’ covenant. That is why he sacrifices to his fathers’ God.
In exile the destiny of the nation is not up to the nation. The consequences and the influence of the exile are enforced upon the nation by external factors. The responsibility for the success of the connection is in Hashems’ hands, who brings the entire family to Egypt against their will.
From the above it is easy to understand Hashems’ answer to Ya’akov ‘s sacrifices:
“God spoke to Israel in night visions and He said, “Y’aakov, Ya’akov ” and he said: “Here I am.” And He said “I am the God-God of your father. Have no fear of descending to Egypt for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up, and Yosef shall place his hand on your eyes.”
Hashem promises Ya’akov that He will go down with him to Egypt and to take him out of there as well. Where did he fulfill this promise? Ya’akov passed away in Egypt and only his body was taken to be buried in Israel?
Chazal explain that Ya’akov is not concerned about his personal destiny. He is concerned about the “Tribe Covenant”, about the future of the nation. Hashem answers him that in Egypt his sons will become a great nation.
When a person or a nation is confronted with a crisis the first thing they do is to try to avoid it.
What can one do in times he cannot avoid it? Chazal teach us to learn from Ya’akov . The middle bar, the part that connects all the people, all the events to one chapter is the outcome that we are looking to find in the crisis.
Whoever takes Avraham s’ Cedar tree with him, our anscestors trees and roots, can pray to Hashem to rise from the crisis with great wealth.