Stranger In a Strange Land

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein




Parashat VAYECHI




With gratitude and in honor of the bar mitzvah,
this year b'ezrat Hashem, of our twin sons,
Michael and Joshua - Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise


Dedicated in memory of Jack Stone, and Helen and Benjamin Pearlman, z"l,
and in honor of Mrs. Esther Stone.

By Gary and Ilene Stone of Teaneck, NJ


Dedicated by Aaron and Tzipora Ross and family in memory of their grandparents
Shimon ben Moshe Rosenthal, Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlmo Moshe HaKohen Fredman, and Chaya bat Yitzchak David Fredman,
whose yahrtzeits are this week.



Stranger in a Strange Land

Summarized by Aryeh Dienstag



In the first section of our parasha there is a striking discussion between Yaakov and Yosef.  Yosef approaches Yaakov as a son to his father – he speaks to him with reverence, and at the same time Yaakov bows to Yosef.  Yaakov is Yosef’s father, and Yosef labors to give his father the proper respect.  At the same time Yaakov bows to Yosef because Yosef is the ruler in Egypt, and Yaakov shows respect to the government (Ibn Ezra, 47:31).  Although Yaakov is showing respect to Yosef, we see from the beginning of the verse that Yaakov is in control of this situation; he is the one, acting as Yisrael, who says, “Swear to me, and he [Yosef] swore to him” (Bereishit 47:31).


This encounter repeats itself in the next section, where Yaakov calls for Yosef again.  Again Yaakov is deferential to Yosef and again Yaakov is in control of this timeless exchange.  However, this time Yaakov asks Yosef, concerning the latter’s sons, “Who are they?”  These are the same sons Yaakov will hug and kiss one verse later! Yaakov is really asking Yosef whether they are worthy of a blessing.  Are they worthy of entering into Klal Yisrael, or are they Egyptian children?


These interactions illustrate the dynamic between Yaakov and Yosef at this point.  Yosef is the current ruler of Egypt.  Yosef has saved the country from financial ruin and starvation.  Yosef saved his family as well and has supported them for the past seventeen years. But Yaakov is Yisrael, and he is concerned with the future of Klal Yisrael.  


The names Yosef gives his sons represent two different views of Yosef’s stay in Egypt.  Ephraim’s name represents that of a stranger.  Ki hifrani Elokim be-eretz onyi – God has made me fruitful me in the land of my oppression” (Bereishit 41:52).  Yosef sees Egypt as eretz onyi, not his home.  On the other hand, Menasheh’s name represents that of a resident of Egypt, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all of my father’s house” (Bereishit 41:51).  Yosef no longer sees himself as part of his father’s house. 


When Yaakov meets Yosef in our parasha he asks, “Who are these?” Are they part of Mitzrayim or Yisrael?  Yaakov asks Yosef, how do you see yourself, as the ruler of Egypt, or a child of Yisrael?  Yaakov puts his right hand on the head of Ephraim, not Menasheh.  This is saying: I like the stance of “hifrani Elokim be-eretz onyi,” and not “nashani Elokim." 


Yaakov’s order to Yosef is along these lines as well.  Yaakov tells Yosef not to bury him in Egypt.  Yaakov says that although he has been staying in Egypt for the past seventeen years and he is grateful for the seventeen years of support, Egypt is not his home.  He is only a visitor, a temporary transient, a ger – not a citizen.  Therefore Yaakov demands Yosef return him to Eretz Yisrael to be buried, and by doing so demonstrates this point. 


Yosef internalized this message as well.  Yosef was the controller of Egypt – he ruled the country.  However, at the end he didn’t see Egypt as his home; his stay was to be viewed as temporary as well.  Therefore, Yosef follows Yaakov’s example, and orders his brothers to bury him in Eretz Yisrael as well.  Finally, Yosef’s request (in light of his vision) was realized, when Moshe took Yosef’s bones along during the Exodus from Egypt.


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5766 [2006].)