by Rabbi Jay Spero
Spero at 862-9546 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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In this weekís portion, after Yoseph ascertains that his brothers have done
Teshuva (properly atoned) for their selling of him, he reveals himself to them
and they are joyously reunited. He then sends word to his father Yaakov, who is
in the land of Israel, that he is alive and that Yaakov should come join him and
the rest of his brothers in Egypt.
Before Yaakov embarks on his journey to Egypt, he has prophecy from Hashem.
Hashem tells him: "Have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall make
you a great nation there" (Bereshis 46:3).
What was Yaakovís fear of going down to Egypt?
At different times, all three of our Avos (forefathers) were told "al tira"
ó donít fear. Avraham was told this after the war of the four kings against
the five kings (Bereshis 15:1). The Ramban explains that Avraham was worried
that he would not have any children to carry on his mission in the world, thus
Hashem told him, do not fear.
Yitzchok was told "do not fear" after his quarrel with the shepherds
in Gerar over ownership of the wells that he had dug, wells that had been
originally dug by Avraham and covered by the Pelishtim (Ibid. 26:24).
The wells are a metaphor for the service of Hashem. Originally, they had been
dug by Avraham, the spreader of monotheism. Then the wells were covered by those
who do not wish to accept this yoke of Heaven. They were subsequently uncovered
by Avrahamís son Yitzchok, who continued Avrahamís service to Hashem.
Hashem was telling Yitzchok, do not fear retribution, for just as I have enabled
you to uncover the wells and continue your father Avrahamís service of Hashem,
so I will increase your offspring, because of my servant Avraham, i.e., that
what Avraham started, will be completed by his descendants.
The Zohar explains that Yaakov is told "do not fear". Yaakov was
afraid that his family would succumb to Egypt, that they would assimilate into
Egyptian culture. Thus Yaakov is reassured by Hashem: "I will be with you
when you go down to Egypt, and I shall lift you up from there" (Ibid.
We see an ascending level of fear by our Avos. Avraham is fearful that there
will simply not be the physical element of the Jewish people to continue his
work. Yitzchok fears that though there may be the people, perhaps there will be
to many impediments. Yaakov fears the problem is not lack of people or outside
elements, but rather, the concern for Bnei Yisroel (the children of Israel)
themselves, will they be able to withstand the temptation of the outside world,
and continue their mission?
To all three of these concerns Hashem tells them "do not fear, I am with
We can imagine how Yaakov felt, after all that he had been through, his war with
Eisav his brother, his dealings with Lavan, the kidnapping of his daughter
Dinah, his thinking that his beloved son Yoseph was dead for twenty-two years,
and now he had to leave the land of Israel and be forced to die in exile. Why
was this necessary?
The Ohr Hachaim writes that Yaakov actually thought about returning to Israel
when the famine (which had led his children to Egypt in the first place) was
over, but Hashem had told him, "I will make you a great nation there."
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, writes there that the purpose of
all our exiles is to uncover the shells, and find hidden sparks of Divine
goodness that have been dispersed to the place we have been exiled to. In
laymanís terms, this means that there is potential for good dispersed
throughout the world, and it is the responsibility of the Jewish people to
exercise the gift of free will, and choose this good, and by doing so, to
uncover these sparks and sanctify the world. When we do so, we will be ready to
return to Israel, to go home.
And in every exile, Hashem is with us, just as he was with our ancestors.
Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac
Synagogue in Buffalo.