• Gabbai

Vayigash – Separation and Contempt

The following sermon was delivered by Russell Harding on 9 Jan, 2017.

This week’s Parsha contains the emotional reunion of Yosef with his father and his brothers. Paro is pleased. Perhaps he sees further advantage of the type that Yosef has already brought to Paro and to Egypt. He gives wagons for Yosef to send to Eretz Canaan to collect his brothers and father. Paro promises that he will give them the best that Egypt has to offer.

Yet, this is not how it turns out. Yosef tells his family that Paro will want to see them and when he does they are to tell him that they are shepherds, as had been their forebears and they wish to settle in the Land of Goshen. However, once Paro hears they are shepherds, he has no further use for them.

Yosef’s instructing his family to respond in this way is no accident. Shepherds were despised in Egypt. The Egyptians deified sheep. Those who herded sheep and milked them and sheered them for wool were detested. Why would Yosef have instructed his family to do this? He could have appointed them to government positions where they would have been revered by Egyptians, earned high salaries and retired on generous pensions!!

The Kli Yakar (Shlomo Ephraim of Luntshits – 16 th century), writes that Yosef wanted his brothers to say they were shepherds so that Paro would separate them from Egyptians. Rabbenu Bachya (Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa – 13 th century Spain) explains that the occupation of shepherd has two advantages: 1. Shepherds earn money from wool, milk and lambs; and 2. Because being a shepherd is held in contempt by Egyptians, there is little competition.