Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Goshen, Egypt

After recording the dramatic rendezvous between Joseph and his brothers, Jacob’s move to Egypt and Joseph’s brilliant economic plan, the very last verse in parashat Vayigash records the new “home away from home” of the Children of Israel, in Goshen. “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen; they took holdings in it and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly.” (Genesis 47:27).

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein asks why this verse was necessary, after all, the Torah has already described Goshen as the new Egyptian home of Jacob and his descendants. Since there are no extra words in the Torah, what does this verse teach us? Rabbi Feinstein argues that this verse teaches Jews of all future generations how to survive and thrive as Jews when surrounded by the blandishments of alien cultures.

First, Rabbi Feinstein teaches, Jews flourish in foreign cultures only when they remember their distinctiveness. They could survive in Egypt so long as they remained true and close to Goshen, their specific enclave. To perpetuate Judaism, a Jew must live among others who share similar values, outlooks and practices.

Second, advanced Rabbi Feinstein, who lived most of his life on the Lower East Side of New York City.  Goshen was indeed in Egypt, a land that was hostile to morality, ethics and spiritually. The 210-year phase of Jewish destiny that would take place in Goshen served as the crucible for the growth of Jacob’s family into a nation and people. This incredibly important spiritual and moral development took place in Egypt, a country with dramatically opposed ethics and virtues to those of Judaism. The challenges of Egypt were confronted by the teachings and beliefs taught in Goshen.

When Jewish parents bless their daughters, they do so by mentioning the names of the four Matriarchs. When they bless sons, however, they invoke Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Menashe. Why not the Patriarchs? A common answer given is that Ephraim and Menashe were born and bred outside of the Land of Israel, yet were able to successfully transmit the values of the patriarchs, in Goshen, Egypt.

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