What Pharaoh Heard

When someone wrongs you, its natural to want to tell others about the culprit's awful behavior, but Joseph took a higher road—the path of discipleship.

Pharaoh Ramses II statue in Luxor Temple, Egypt. (Image © Bigstock)

Vayigash

Regular Shabbat Readings

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* Note: On Jewish holidays, special readings often interrupt the regular cycle.

  • Vayigash (ויגש | He approached)
  • Torah: Genesis 44:18-47:27
  • Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
  • Gospel: John 5:1-47

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 44:18 | Judah Pleads for Benjamin's Release
    • Genesis 45:1 | Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers
    • Genesis 46:1 | Jacob Brings His Whole Family to Egypt
    • Genesis 46:28 | Jacob Settles in Goshen
    • Genesis 47:13 | The Famine in Egypt
  • Prophets
    • Eze 37:15 | The Two Sticks

Portion Summary

The eleventh reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayigash (ויגש), which means "and he came near." The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, "Then Judah [came near] him" (Genesis 44:18). The portion begins with the dramatic unveiling of Joseph's true identity and his reconciliation with his brothers. It then proceeds to tell the story of the migration of Jacob's family to Egypt and the rest of the famine years. This Torah portion begins to set the stage for the Egyptian captivity of the sons of Jacob.


When we are wronged by someone, it is natural to tell others about it. We want to tell others about how it happened to garner their sympathy and support. Somehow it makes us feel better to know that others are aware of the injustice committed against us. We seek out sympathy and commit a small act of retaliation.

"Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh's house that Joseph's brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants." (Genesis 45:16)

Pharaoh was delighted when he heard that Joseph's brothers had come to Egypt. He immediately made provision to bring the entire family to Egypt so they could survive the famine in safety and comfort. He provided wagons for the move. He promised them the best of the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh's warm welcome of Joseph's brothers reveals an important detail about Joseph's time in Egypt. Apparently, the entire time he had been in Egypt, he had never told anyone the story of what his brothers did to him. Pharaoh, at least, had never heard the tale of how Joseph's brother abducted him and sold him. Had he known the story of the villainous deed, he would not have extended the warm welcome.

Joseph loved his brothers and his family so much that he could not bear the thought of having them defamed. He did not want Egyptians saying to one another, "Did you hear about the nasty thing that Joseph's lowlife brothers did to him?" Joseph kept the entire episode to himself. The only thing he ever said about his past was the vague explanation, "I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews" (Genesis 40:15). His love for his brothers compelled him to protect their reputation.

Instead of emulating Joseph, who was concerned about protecting the dignity of his loved ones, it seems we do just the opposite. A husband and wife are eating out at a restaurant when the husband drops his cup, spilling his beverage on the table. Embarrassed, the wife rolls her eyes and says to the stranger sitting at the next table, "He is such a klutz." A man is out with his friends when they begin discussing the foils of marriage. All in good fun, the man complains to the guys about his wife's bad habits. Everyone laughs. Why would we sell out the people we love like this? The wife shows more concern for the opinion of a stranger in a restaurant than she does for the dignity of her husband. The husband has higher regard for a few laughs from his buddies than he does for the reputation of his wife.

A woman was having a hard time at the Messianic synagogue she attended in the southern United States. She was involved in a heated conflict with some other members. This went on for some time. Frustrated with her congregation, she told her unbelieving friend about the problems she was having. Eventually the leadership arbitrated the situation. She made peace with the people. Some time later, she invited her unbelieving friend to attend a service. Her friend said, "Are you crazy? After the way you talked about those people and that place, I wouldn't set foot in there."

Joseph never told the Egyptians about the incident with his brothers because it was none of their business. By maintaining discretion, he was protecting the name and reputation of God in Egypt. Had he told his sad story to everyone, the Egyptians would have had cause to say, "If that's how the followers of your God behave, I want nothing to do with Him or your religion."

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