I like to keep things balanced in my accounts. So I expect things in Torah to balance as well. But sometimes, when you try and reconcile things in the Torah, it’s not so easy. The numbers don’t always balance out. We have an example right here in Vayigash.
First, we have this:
וּקְח֧וּ אֶת־אֲבִיכֶ֛ם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּיכֶ֖ם וּבֹ֣אוּ אֵלָ֑י וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה לָכֶ֗ם אֶת־טוּב֙ אֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם וְאִכְל֖וּ אֶת־חֵ֥לֶב הָאָֽרֶץ׃
Take your father and your households and come to me; I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you shall live off the fat of the land.’
וְאַתָּ֥ה צֻוֵּ֖יתָה זֹ֣את עֲשׂ֑וּ קְחוּ־לָכֶם֩ מֵאֶ֨רֶץ מִצְרַ֜יִם עֲגָל֗וֹת לְטַפְּכֶם֙ וְלִנְשֵׁיכֶ֔ם וּנְשָׂאתֶ֥ם אֶת־אֲבִיכֶ֖ם וּבָאתֶֽם׃
And you are bidden [to add], ‘Do as follows: take from the land of Egypt wagons for your children and your wives, and bring your father here.
וְעֵ֣ינְכֶ֔ם אַל־תָּחֹ֖ס עַל־כְּלֵיכֶ֑ם כִּי־ט֛וּב כָּל־אֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם לָכֶ֥ם הֽוּא׃
And never mind your belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt shall be yours.’”
וַיַּֽעֲשׂוּ־כֵן֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיִּתֵּ֨ן לָהֶ֥ם יוֹסֵ֛ף עֲגָל֖וֹת עַל־פִּ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה וַיִּתֵּ֥ן לָהֶ֛ם צֵדָ֖ה לַדָּֽרֶךְ׃
The sons of Israel did so; Joseph gave them wagons as Pharaoh had commanded, and he supplied them with provisions for the journey.
Then we have this:
וַיִּסַּ֤ע יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְכָל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֔וֹ וַיָּבֹ֖א בְּאֵ֣רָה שָּׁ֑בַע וַיִּזְבַּ֣ח זְבָחִ֔ים לֵאלֹהֵ֖י אָבִ֥יו יִצְחָֽק׃
So Israel set out with all that was his, and he came to Beer-sheba, where he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל֙ בְּמַרְאֹ֣ת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֣ב ׀ יַעֲקֹ֑ב וַיֹּ֖אמֶר הִנֵּֽנִי׃
God called to Israel in a vision by night: “Jacob! Jacob!” He answered, “Here.”
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָנֹכִ֥י הָאֵ֖ל אֱלֹהֵ֣י אָבִ֑יךָ אַל־תִּירָא֙ מֵרְדָ֣ה מִצְרַ֔יְמָה כִּֽי־לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל אֲשִֽׂימְךָ֥ שָֽׁם׃
And He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation.
אָנֹכִ֗י אֵרֵ֤ד עִמְּךָ֙ מִצְרַ֔יְמָה וְאָנֹכִ֖י אַֽעַלְךָ֣ גַם־עָלֹ֑ה וְיוֹסֵ֕ף יָשִׁ֥ית יָד֖וֹ עַל־עֵינֶֽיךָ׃
I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back; and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”
וַיָּ֥קָם יַעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיִּשְׂא֨וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶת־יַעֲקֹ֣ב אֲבִיהֶ֗ם וְאֶת־טַפָּם֙ וְאֶת־נְשֵׁיהֶ֔ם בָּעֲגָל֕וֹת אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח פַּרְעֹ֖ה לָשֵׂ֥את אֹתֽוֹ׃
So Jacob set out from Beer-sheba. The sons of Israel put their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to transport him;
וַיִּקְח֣וּ אֶת־מִקְנֵיהֶ֗ם וְאֶת־רְכוּשָׁם֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר רָֽכְשׁוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֖אוּ מִצְרָ֑יְמָה יַעֲקֹ֖ב וְכָל־זַרְע֥וֹ אִתּֽוֹ׃
and they took along their livestock and the wealth that they had amassed in the land of Canaan. Thus Jacob and all his offspring with him came to Egypt:
בָּנָ֞יו וּבְנֵ֤י בָנָיו֙ אִתּ֔וֹ בְּנֹתָ֛יו וּבְנ֥וֹת בָּנָ֖יו וְכָל־זַרְע֑וֹ הֵבִ֥יא אִתּ֖וֹ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
he brought with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons, his daughters and granddaughters—all his offspring.
Pharaoh clearly instructs Joseph and his brothers to fetch Jacob, but to not bother bringing any of their “stuff” with them, as Egypt will provide all they need. Jacob and his sons clearly ignore (or forget) this admonition and bring with them all of Jacob’s accumulated wealth.
Now, one could argue that Pharaoh was referring only to household possessions. I think that’s a real stretch. So,Egyptian Pharaohs were certainly known for insisting their orders be followed as given. So why did Joseph, his brothers, and father get a pass in this case? Was Pharaoh just being a polite host? Was Pharaoh just trying not to cause any trouble between him and Joseph? Was Pharaoh truly grateful enough to Joseph that he would ignore this outright contempt for his instructions?
Why did Pharaoh issue the instruction in the first place? Was he so certain that Egypt was so cultural superior, that Joseph’s father and extended family wouldn’t miss their ratty old possessions? Perhaps Pharaoh had a hidden motive, seeking to lure the family away from its nomadic shepherding lifestyle? Maybe Pharaoh could steer them into forms of livelihood more suitable to supporting the Egyptian state?
Well, there’s this:
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֤ף אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ וְאֶל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֔יו אֶעֱלֶ֖ה וְאַגִּ֣ידָה לְפַרְעֹ֑ה וְאֹֽמְרָ֣ה אֵלָ֔יו אַחַ֧י וּבֵית־אָבִ֛י אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּאֶֽרֶץ־כְּנַ֖עַן בָּ֥אוּ אֵלָֽי׃
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I will go up and tell the news to Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me.
וְהָאֲנָשִׁים֙ רֹ֣עֵי צֹ֔אן כִּֽי־אַנְשֵׁ֥י מִקְנֶ֖ה הָי֑וּ וְצֹאנָ֧ם וּבְקָרָ֛ם וְכָל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר לָהֶ֖ם הֵבִֽיאוּ׃
The men are shepherds; they have always been breeders of livestock, and they have brought with them their flocks and herds and all that is theirs.’
וְהָיָ֕ה כִּֽי־יִקְרָ֥א לָכֶ֖ם פַּרְעֹ֑ה וְאָמַ֖ר מַה־מַּעֲשֵׂיכֶֽם׃
So when Pharaoh summons you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’
וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֗ם אַנְשֵׁ֨י מִקְנֶ֜ה הָי֤וּ עֲבָדֶ֙יךָ֙ מִנְּעוּרֵ֣ינוּ וְעַד־עַ֔תָּה גַּם־אֲנַ֖חְנוּ גַּם־אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ בַּעֲב֗וּר תֵּשְׁבוּ֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ גֹּ֔שֶׁן כִּֽי־תוֹעֲבַ֥ת מִצְרַ֖יִם כָּל־רֹ֥עֵה צֹֽאן׃
you shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers’—so that you may stay in the region of Goshen. For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.”
We’ve been told here in the Torah that Egyptians abhor shepherds, but the facts argue against that. It is true the Egyptians did not, in general, have a lot of sheep, and didn’t make use of their wool – but they did have some sheep, and made extensive use of goats and goat hair. They preferred the lighter, less-itchy feel of linen as clothing as compared to sheep’s wool. They had little use for sheep’s milk, having plentiful goat and cow milk available. In addition, there are sheep gods in the Egyptian pantheon. The deities Khnum and Amen was portrayed with sheep bodies, and ram were symbols of fertility
If the Egyptians loathed shepherds, maybe it was a result of their distaste for the Hyksos that overran and ruled the upper half of Egypt (and for a short period, lower Egypt as well) between 1650 and 1550 BCE. However, this fanciful notion is somewhat disproven by the generally accepted consensus that in ancient Egyptian, hyksos (heqau khaswet) meant “ruler from a foreign land” but found its way into ancient Greek as a loan word where it came to mean “shepherd King.” Josephus later picked up on this word and it’s connection to the Jewish narrative, and thus instigated the widely accepted (but now disproven) etymology of the word meaning “shepherd rulers.”
So much for Pharaoh wanting to secretly get Joseph’s family to stop being shepherds. However, Pharaoh may still have preferred they engaged in a profession more useful to Egypt. Raising cattle, or goats. Goshen was also very fertile land for agriculture – perhaps these nomads would settle down and bring their expertise to growing crops for Egypt.
I don’t know. I can’t help but think there is a reason that no mention is made of how Joseph ignored Pharaoh’s directions to have his family not bring their belongings, but for the life of me, I can’t suss out what it might be.
Does the Torah wish us to learn something from Pharaoh not bringing up this challenge to his orders? Is it telling us that this Pharaoh knew enough to “choose his battles” and setting that as an example for us? Is it a dig at Pharaoh, either showing that he didn’t notice his order had been disobeyed, or was cowed enough by Joseph success that he dare not speak up?
I may just have to chalk this up to yet another example of the Torah teaching us that we can;t figure out everything. Or of the Torah reminding us “this is just a story, don’t get too wrapped up in the details, and look at the enduring understandings, to use a little edu-speak.
But when you turn it, and turn it again, you really do find everything in it. That everything includes things that don’t reconcile. You’d think that after years of this, I’d have learned to ignore and accept that. But then again, I’m the stubborn type who, in all his years of keeping his accounts, both manually, and for the last 35+ years, in Quicken*, has only once, in all that time, allowed Quicken to enter a reconciliation transaction to make up for a balance difference he just couldn’t reconcile (and it was only for a few cents.) Torah’s reconciliation issues will always call me to try and balance them. I hope I will continue to opt for trying to balance the accounts. Here’s to reconciliation. Or the lack thereof.
©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester
*If you’re a user of this same financial software that I’ve been using since the mid-80s, you might get the joke in the musing title.
Other Musings on this Parasha
Vayigash 5778 – Two Sticks As One (Revised 5766)
Vayigash 5777 – Orange Default Swaps
Vayigash 5776 – Things Better Left Unsaid (Redux 5763)
Vayiggash 5775 – Rule #2
Vayiggash 5774 – We Are Shepherds
Vayigash 5773 – Let’s Be Judah
Vayigash 5772 – Redux & Revised 5760 Teleology 101: Does G”d Play Dice With the World
Vayiggash 5771-Being Both Israels
Vayigash 5769 – He’s A-Cookin’-a-Somethin’-A-Up
Vayigash 5768 – G”d By the Light of Day
Vayigash 5767-Two Sticks As One?
Vayigash 5765-One People
Vayigash 5763-Things Better Left Unsaid
Vayigash 5761/5766-Checking In
Vayigash 5762-Teleology 101: Does Gd Play Dice With the World?