ויגש

In this week’s parsha, we read of the reconciliation of the estranged family of Yaakov, first among the brothers, and then all those who are still alive.  After revealing his true identity, Yosef urges his family to relocate to Egypt (ostensibly just to wait out the famine?), which his father reluctantly agrees to do.  The parsha ends by telling of the measures taken by Yosef in the last years of the famine to consolidate Pharaoh’s power while keeping the populace alive (if enslaved).  While Yosef is undoubtedly the hero of the text, any way you read it, there is still a lot of latitude in how much one sees him as a truly righteous person, or as someone more  narrowly concerned with his (and his immediate family’s) self-interest.  For example, after his father and brothers and their families are safely settled in Goshen, the text says: “And Yosef sustained his father and his brothers and his father’s entire household with bread, according to the children” (47:12, emphasis and translation mine).  The last clause is ambiguous, as what does it mean to feed a household according to the children?  Rashi states that this means feeding all members of the household, while one of the commentaries on Rashi goes so far as to suggest that this includes providing enough food for the children that they can act recklessly with it, using more bread than they will eat (Siftei Chachamim ibid.).  Sforno takes the opposite route, and continues to see Yosef as a model biblical character.  On the same verse Sforno comments: “Even though he [Yosef] has the ability to give them much food, he gave them a frugal amount, as our Sages teach (תענית יא א): when the public is grieving, a person should not say ‘I will go to my house and eat and drink,’ all the best to you” (translation mine).  In other words, the clause in the verse can be read as meaning that, just as children will eat wastefully, so too Yosef provided enough food for the adults to do the same; or, it can mean that, just as children do not eat much food, Yosef provided the adults with only children’s portions.

When the times are tough

Does Yosef the Righteous

Act for his own good?

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