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B'resheet/Genesis 39:1 And Yosef was brought down to Egypt and Potiphar bought him
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TheSforno opens this passage by commenting on the placement of the - "and" - at the beginning of this section of the narrative. The last chapter dealt with the affairs of Yosef's brother Judah, back in the land of Canaan, and Sforno says that the is placed at the beginning of this narrative block, with the proper name Yosef rather than with the verb that follows, in order to emphasise that these events (i.e. chapter 38 and chapter 39 ff.) took place at the same time. The verb is a Hof'al Affix 3ms from the root , to go down or descend, the Hof'al stem is both causitive and passive: Yosef did not of his own volition go down to Egypt, but he was caused to go down - as the modern JPS translation says: "When Yosef was taken down to Egypt". The same verb is used of Judah in the previous chapter, , "and Judah went down", although there it is in the Qal stem, denoting active action; this invites a comparison of the two events.
Rashi accepts the invitation and comments that the Torah deliberately positioned the narrative sequences - interrupting the Yosef story with the seemingly out-of-place story of Judah's life - "in order to juxtapose the descent of Judah with the sale of Yosef." Rashi has previously commented that Judah was to some extent removed from his position of authority among the brothers because with hindsight they disapproved of his advice to sell Yosef to the Midianites, so that Judah could have been said to have "gone down" or been taken down a peg or two, but here our attention is focused on the difference between the two events: Judah - feeling the disapprobation of his family - turns aside and goes down into the land of Canaan by marrying a local merchant's daughter and having children; he chose to do that. Yosef, on the other hand, went down to Egypt against his will, with no choice in the matter, because he had been sold to the Midianite slave traders. Perhaps he initially entertained some thoughts that this was at least better than being killed or left in the pit to die, and besides he'd easily be able to slip away and make for home, but his hopes in that direction would soon have been disillusioned. He had to face not only being taken many miles to a foreign country away from his home, but the emotional descent in status from the favourite son of a rich father to the indignity of being sold in a slave market and becoming the personal slave to a man of stature and reputation as the chief executioner in Pharaoh's court!
In the Yosef story - as we shall see in the coming weeks as we read on through the text - HaShem brings Yosef down so that He may bring him up again in a different and better place to accomplish His plans. Like a duck or a grebe that dives below the water and only re-appears some time later and often yards away from the point of disappearance, Yosef bobs out of sight on the Canaan stage, only to re-appear - eventually - as the Grand Vizier of Egypt; second in command only to Pharaoh himself, in order to save his family from the famine across the whole region, and effect their transfer to Egypt thus fulfilling G-d's promise to Avraham. Although Yosef never loses touch with G-d during the process, it is only with hindsight that he can say to his brothers, "G-d sent me ahead of you to ensure that you will have descendants on earth and to save your lives in a great deliverance" (B'resheet 45:7, CJB). He later added, "G-d meant it for good - so that it would come about as it is today, with many people's lives being saved" (B'resheet 50:20, CJB).
Yosef's life was a pointer, a worked example, of Messiah who was to come. Our rabbis recognise this when they write about Messiah ben Yosef - Messiah, son of Yosef. We can see in Yosef's life a model of the life and ministry of Yeshua: "though He was in the form of G-d, He did not regard equality with G-d something to be possessed by force. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, in that He took the form of a slave by becoming like human beings are. And when He appeared as a human being, He humbled Himself still more by becoming obedient even to death - death on a stake as a criminal! Therefore G-d raised Him to the highest place and gave Him the name above every name; that in honour of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai - to the glory of G-d the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11, CJB).
Further Study: Isaiah 50:4-7; Isaiah 45:23-25
Application: Do you feel cast down and despondent, thinking that G-d has forgotten about you and that you are languishing away in a corner out of His sight? Never fear, for G-d has a purpose for your life; if He has cast down or put on one side it is for the purpose that He may yet bring you out and use you to bless and encourage others in the unfolding of His kingdom plans.
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
Comment - 26Dec07 18:23 Anonymous: I find myself in the application of this drash. How awesome it was to be on the mountain of G-D, daily in HIS presence. The contrast is quite a test of my faith, as HE is building and establishing me for HIS kingdom purposes. I dont see the promises fulfilling. However because of my faith in HIM I know the unknown plans for me will come to fruition. Thank you for these words of encouragement.'
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