Skip to content

Sukkat Shalom B'nei Noach




Lessons from Joseph’s Journey of Escorting Guests and Fostering Collective Peace

PARSHAT Vayigash – 5784

Genesis 45:

Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, “Take everyone away from me!” So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. אוְלֹֽא־יָכֹ֨ל יוֹסֵ֜ף לְהִתְאַפֵּ֗ק לְכֹ֤ל הַנִּצָּבִים֙ עָלָ֔יו וַיִּקְרָ֕א הוֹצִ֥יאוּ כָל־אִ֖ישׁ מֵֽעָלָ֑י וְלֹא־עָ֤מַד אִישׁ֙ אִתּ֔וֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּ֥ע יוֹסֵ֖ף אֶל־אֶחָֽיו:

“When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, they had also another goal in mind. They wanted to see if they could find Joseph, whom they knew must be somewhere in Egypt. For this reason, Joseph referred to his brothers as spies, indicating that he knew they were looking for him. However, this did not affect him emotionally.[1]

His emotional response came when he saw his brother Benjamin, but in a manner that he could control, as we read in Genesis 43:

And Joseph hastened, for his mercy was stirred toward his brother, and he wanted to weep; so he went into the room and wept there.
 לוַיְמַהֵ֣ר יוֹסֵ֗ף כִּֽי־נִכְמְר֤וּ רַֽחֲמָיו֙ אֶל־אָחִ֔יו וַיְבַקֵּ֖שׁ לִבְכּ֑וֹת וַיָּבֹ֥א הַחַ֖דְרָה וַיֵּ֥בְךְּ שָֽׁמָּה:

What caused Joseph to lose control of his emotions, prompting him to reveal himself to his brothers? The answer can be found in Genesis 44.

For how will I go up to my father if the boy is not with me? Let me not see the misery that will befall my father!”
 לדכִּי־אֵיךְ֙ אֶֽעֱלֶ֣ה אֶל־אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶ֣נּוּ אִתִּ֑י פֶּ֚ן אֶרְאֶ֣ה בָרָ֔ע אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִמְצָ֖א אֶת־אָבִֽי:

When Judah, who had sold him, spoke about informing his father, which he was reluctant to do when it would cause him more grief, Joseph broke down. However, this raises the question of why Joseph did not think about his father’s suffering earlier. As the viceroy, he could have surely sent a message to his father that he was still alive. When his brothers first came, he could have immediately revealed himself and had his brothers tell their father that he was alive. Joseph must have known that parting with Benjamin would increase his father’s suffering. What is happening behind the scenes that we do not immediately see?

For this, we need to go back to the beginning of Joseph’s story, to his initial dreams. Joseph dreamt of eleven sheaves bowing down to him, and now he saw his brothers bowing before him, but one was missing—Benjamin. Joseph was aware that his dreams had to come true, and every detail had to align. He learned this proactive attitude from the matriarchs who actively intervened to change take responsibility that history unfolds as it shoud, to send away Ishmael and Esau. Therefore, Joseph ensured that the brothers had to return with Benjamin to fulfill his first dream.

When he saw Benjamin, the first dream had come true, and more than that, he observed that his brothers no longer harbored hatred or jealousy towards each other. Especially, Judah stood up for Benjamin. Judah, the one who wanted to kill Joseph because he saw him as a threat to their father’s spiritual legacy. Judah expected that when Joseph was gone, Jacob would eventually realize his mistake in seeing Jozef as the firstborn and leader of the family and would focus on the children of Leah. But Judah noticed that his father was inconsolable and did not come to the realization that he was mistaken. Because Jacob was right it the leader had to come from Rachel and not from Lea; it would be Joseph who would bear the responsibility and ensure the family’s survival.

Now that the first dream had come true, it was time to fulfill the second dream. So Joseph sent wagons with cattle to bring his father and stepmother to Egypt. This was a deliberate choice by Joseph. Firstly, it demonstrated that he was a significant figure in Egypt, someone with the power to bring animals from Egypt, which was normally not allowed under Egyptian law. More importantly, it connected with the last study he had learn with his father.

How does that work? When Jacob sent Joseph to his brothers, he walked a part of the way with him. He did this to show him the mitzvah of escorting a family member, friend, or guest.

“Any person who has been a guest in a place, the host should escort him part of the way home. Anyone who is escorted by his friends or others will not encounter any harm. Those who are leaving and who neglect to arrange an escort, or those able to escort who do not, are considered as if they have shed blood. A beis din has the authority to compel people to escort a guest. Escorting a person comes under the category of gemilus chassadim , and also fulfills the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta lerei’achah kamochah” — “loving your fellow as yourself.” (Vayikra 19:18)[2]

This was a practical implementation of Deuteronomy 21, where we read about the laws of “eglah arufah”. Since Jacob walked more than 4 amot with him, Joseph would have the strength and self-worth to overcome any danger. The eglah arufah is a symbol of the calamity that can befall someone if they are not accompanied by their host, and as a result they might be vulnerable to attack and be killed or they might be vulnerable to all of the bitter feelings stored inside them and end up killing someone. Jacob thought that Josef would be strong enough to check on his brothers and not have harm befall him, because Jacob accompanied him on his way to give him strength.

1If a slain person be found in the land which the L-rd, your G-d is giving you to possess, lying in the field, [and] it is not known who slew him, אכִּֽי־יִמָּצֵ֣א חָלָ֗ל בַּֽאֲדָמָה֙ אֲשֶׁר֩ יְ”הֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵ֤ן לְךָ֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ נֹפֵ֖ל בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖ע מִ֥י הִכָּֽהוּ:
2then your elders and judges shall go forth, and they shall measure to the cities around the corpse. בוְיָֽצְא֥וּ זְקֵנֶ֖יךָ וְשֹֽׁפְטֶ֑יךָ וּמָֽדְדוּ֙ אֶל־הֶ֣עָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר סְבִיבֹ֥ת הֶֽחָלָֽל:
3And it will be, [that from] the city closer to the corpse, the elders of that city shall take a calf with which work has never been done, [and] that has never drawn a yoke, גוְהָיָ֣ה הָעִ֔יר הַקְּרֹבָ֖ה אֶל־הֶֽחָלָ֑ל וְלָֽקְח֡וּ זִקְנֵי֩ הָעִ֨יר הַהִ֜וא עֶגְלַ֣ת בָּקָ֗ר אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־עֻבַּד֙ בָּ֔הּ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־מָֽשְׁכָ֖ה בְּעֹֽל:
7And they shall announce and say, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see [this crime].” זוְעָנ֖וּ וְאָֽמְר֑וּ יָדֵ֗ינוּ לֹ֤א שָֽׁפְכוּ֙ (כתיב שפכה֙) אֶת־הַדָּ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְעֵינֵ֖ינוּ לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ:

The wagons were a metaphor for the eglah arufah—the decapitated calf—discussed in the Torah portion Jacob and Joseph studied twenty-two years ago, immediately before their parting. The study time of Jacob and Joseph, interrupted by so much time, continued where it had left off years ago. Jacob rejoiced to see Joseph again, and he no longer suffered now that the brothers were no longer in conflict.

And so it is today, as Jacob represents the entire community of Israel. When the brothers are not in conflict and focus on the Tzaddik of their time, it is good and pleasant; brothers dwell together. That is the time when Israel, when Jacob, no longer suffers.” Jacob is symbolic of the Jewish people as a whole. When there is conflict between different factions of the Jewish people, the nation as a whole suffers.

From this story, we can glean several valuable lessons

1. Proactivity and Responsibility:

   – Joseph’s proactive approach to ensuring his dreams come true teaches us about taking responsibility for our destinies. Instead of waiting for events to unfold, he actively influences the outcomes, demonstrating the importance of being proactive in achieving goals.

2. Hospitality and Escorting Guests:

   – The act of escorting guests, as seen in the mitzvah practiced by Jacob and Joseph, highlights the value of hospitality and taking responsibility for the well-being of others. This serves as a reminder to show kindness and consideration by ensuring the safety and comfort of those in our care.

3. Brotherly Harmony for Collective Peace:

   – The story emphasizes that when brothers are in harmony and have resolved their conflicts, the entire community experiences peace and is spared from suffering. This underlines the idea that fostering unity and resolving internal strife within a family or community contributes to the overall well-being of the collective.

By Angelique Sijbolts


[1] Let my nation descend by Rabbi Yosef Deutsch
[2] Escorting the Traveler
Kol Yehuda by Rabbi Yehuda Amital

With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration and feedback

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.