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B'resheet/Genesis 46:3 I am God - the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt
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Ya'akov has packed up everything he has and is on his way down to Egypt to see his long-lost son Yosef, but he stops at Beer Sheva to offer sacrifices toHaShem. HaShem speaks to him in a night vision, calling out "Ya'akov, Ya'akov" to which Ya'akov replies, "Hineyni - here I am." This is the last time G-d makes a recorded speech for four hundred years, and He uses exactly the same style of address as when He spoke to Avraham - "An angel of the L-RD called to him from heaven: 'Abraham! Abraham!' And he answered, 'Here I am'" (B'resheet 22:11, NJPS) - and will use to speak to Moshe: "G-d called to him out of the bush: 'Moshe! Moshe!' He answered, 'Here I am'" (Shemot 3:4, NJPS). Then, without Ya'akov saying anything else, follows our text.
As part of the back story for how we have reached this point, we need first of all to remember that Avraham, Ya'akov's grand-father, went down to Egypt in response to famine: "There was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land" (B'resheet 12:10, NJPS). No explicit conversation is recorded as having taken place; Avraham just went! In similar circumstances some years later, Yitz'khak his father was refused permission to leave the Land: "There was a famine in the land -- aside from the previous famine that had occurred in the days of Avraham -- and Yitz'khak went to Abimelech, king of the Philistines, in Gerar. The L-RD had appeared to him and said, 'Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land which I point out to you'" (26:1-2, NJPS). Now, obviously aware both of those past events and conversations, and of the promises that have been given - of which he is the current holder - concerning the Land and its inheritance by his descendants, Ya'akov appears to be on his way down to Egypt.
DonAbravanel starts the conversation by asking, "Why did the Holy One have to tell Ya'akov, 'Fear not to go down to Egypt' when Ya'akov had just said, 'My son Yosef is still alive! I must go and see him' (45:28), without any sign of fear, and he had already set out (v. 1) to do so?" Rashi offers the somewhat cryptic answer, "because he was distressed that he was forced to leave for outside the Land", but Chizkuni is a little more forthcoming: "You don't tell someone not to fear unless they are afraid. Ya'akov thought, 'Now that I am going down to Egypt, the time of enslavement and oppression that my forefathers were warned about regarding bondage and affliction in a land not their own must be near.'" Bruce Waltke observes that, "the reassuring command implies disquiet in Ya'akov about the migration out of the Promised Land to Egypt, a land fraught with danger, and out of G-d's blessing."1 Nahum Sarna, commenting on the phrase "Do not fear!", points out that "the same reassurance was given to Avraham and to Yitz'khak; it will be given to Moshe as well. It is never preceded by a statement revealing their disquiet. The idea is that man's inner anxieties and fears - although unexpressed - are known to G-d."
TheSforno suggests that inter-marriage or assimilation was on Ya'akov's mind, putting these words in HaShem's mouth: "I, who told your father, 'Do not go down into Egypt' (26:2), tell you 'Fear not to go down to Egypt'. If you remain here your children will intermarry and become absorbed by the Caananites, but in Egypt they will not be able to do so, 'because the Egyptians may not eat bread with the Hebrews' (43:32); therefore they will be a separate, distinct people." Leon Kass also has HaShem addressing Ya'akov's fears: "'Do not be afraid that the encounter with Egypt will be deadly either to you or to your people.' Paradoxically, we might say, in offering Ya'akov assurance about his own fears, G-d is also telling Ya'akov precisely what to worry about: the danger of assimilation, the need for return, the promise and the danger of both Egypt and Joseph for the creation of G-d's great nation."2
TheHa'amek Davar takes the argument on another step, saying, "Ya'akov was afraid his seed would be absorbed by the Egyptian nation. Only in the land of Israel could the unique Jewish spark be preserved down the ages. God spoke to Israel 'in the visions of the night' - in the daytime itself, He appeared to him in the visions of the night, to make him understand that the time had come to shoulder the yoke of exile, that is termed 'night'. The world is then darkened and deprived of the Holy Spirit, which manifests only for brief periods, according to need, just as the lightning flashes punctuate the night." Nechama Leibowitz sees the same theme at work: "This final revelation to Ya'akov is shrouded in the darkness of impending exile, weighed down by the fears of physical and spiritual bondage."
While it is certainly true, as Walter Brueggemann asserts, that "this narrative is placed here to assert that the old promises of B'resheet chapters 12-36 are still operative. G-d still vouches for them. Going to Egypt, that is, leaving the land of promise, does not jeopardise the promise,"3 Ya'akov must feel the impending concern of leaving the Land. He certainly feels the pressure of the famine and that he is being squeezed to do something that he does not want to do. His conversations in this parasha and the previous one clearly show his reluctance to do this. Gordon Wenham explains: "Avraham had been fearful entering Egypt (12:10-13), but Ya'akov should not have had the same grounds for anxiety, since he had been invited by Yosef, ruler of the whole land, and seems to have set out before receiving this vision. His apprehension must rather be assumed to arise out of the clash between the patriarchal promise of the land and his present necessity and desire to see Yosef. So the vision goes to reassure him that, despite this apparent conflict with the divine plan, moving to Egypt has G-d's approval."4
We saw last week that famine is a tool that is can be employed to judge people who are not walking with G-d and are not prepared to listen to His voice. The prophets are unequivocal that famine and exile are closely connected. For example, "Assuredly, My people will suffer exile for not giving heed, its multitude victims of hunger and its masses parched with thirst" (Isaiah 5:13, NJPS) - here, although the word 'famine' is not present in the verse, its effects are surely present. Here, although exile is referred to as banishment - "I will pursue them with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence ... among all the nations to which I shall banish them because they did not heed My words" (Jeremiah 29:18-19, NJPS), famine and exile are the result of ignoring G-d. Yet in our text, we hear G-d speaking to Ya'akov - while in a state of famine - encouraging him to go down to Egypt, into a state of voluntary exile, because "I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt" (B'resheet 46:3-4, NJPS). Not only is the exile going to be used by G-d to change the family of Ya'akov into a great people Israel, but G-d Himself is going into exile with them.
An early midrash on this verse asserts that "when Israel went down to Egypt, God's presence (Shekhinah) accompanied them" (Mekhilta de Rabbi Yishmael). Professor Ismar Schorsch explains that "to leave the land did not put them out of G-d's protective reach. Exile was not bereft of G-d. Implied in this midrash is the comforting belief that as G-d descended with our ancestors into Egypt, G-d would be with us in the exiles yet to come."FootNoteref(5) The sages of the Talmud add, "Rabbi Simon ben Yohai said: Come and see how beloved are Israel in the sight of God, in that to every place to which they were exiled the Shekhinah went with them. In Egypt, the Shechinah was with them, as it says, 'I revealed Myself to your father's house in Egypt when they were subject to the House of Pharaoh' (1 Samuel 2:27, NJPS) In Babylon, the Shechinah was with them, as it says, 'for your sake I was sent to Babylon' (Isaiah 43:14, Soncino). And when they will be redeemed in the future, the Shechinah will be with them, as it says, 'Then the L-rd your G-d will return [with] your captivity' (D'varim 30:3, Soncino). It does not say here [and he shall bring back] but [and he shall return]. This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, will return with them from the places of exile" (b. Megillah 29a).
Where does that leave us now? Are we living in exile, or are we living in God's heavenly kingdom on earth? In some sense, it's both. Yeshua told the disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me ... And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18,20, ESV), aligning Himself with the "one like a son of man" who was "presented before the Ancient of Days" (Daniel 7:13), he was "given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him" (v. 14, ESV). So we are living in His kingdom, right here, right now, in this very place and time, and Yeshua Himself is with us and will not leave us. On the other hand, we are increasingly in exile in this world, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, NASB); we experience tribulation, challenge and - in some cases - persecution for our faith in Yeshua, just as Yeshua said: "because you are not of the world ... therefore the world hates you" (15:19, NASB).
In these days of darkening exile, we need to hear both G-d's voice clearly encouraging us - "Do not fear to go down into exile for I will go with you" - and Yeshua telling us that He has all authority and will never leave us. That's more than a winning team. We live and walk by faith, knowing that God's promises are true even when they don't feel like it.
1. - Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), page 574.
2. - Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2003), pages 619.
3. - Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation, (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982), page 353.
4. - Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994), page 441.
5. - Prof. Dr. Ismar Schorsch is the Chancellor emeritus of The Jewish Theological Seminary, the Rabbi Herman Abramovitz Professor of Jewish history and an ordained Conservative rabbi.
Further Study: Matthew 10:16-23; John 17:14-19; Hebrews 12:25-29
Application: Be encouraged today that G-d's presence is with us in and through every day of the present exile. Remember that wherever you are, Yeshua has promised never to leave or forsake you; He will always be beside you. Turn your head and find Him today; feel by faith His hand on your shoulder and know that He directs your steps in the way they should go.
Comment - 02:19 05Dec21 BKC: I find it amazing that when Yeshua said to be of good cheer He had overcome the world, He said this before He went to the cross! Wow. It makes me ponder...
Comment - 05:00 05Dec21 Nancy Miller: This was a particularly comforting and encouraging drash to me. THANK YOU! I am making a hard copy of it. Even when we cannot fully express our inner anxieties and fears, perhaps even to ourselves, God fully knows all about them and tells us over and over again to not be afraid. Even though we find ourselves living in an ever darkening world and an ever increasing evil day, this time of exile in this present temporary age, we have God's approval as we continue to choose to live for The King and His Kingdom purposes. And most glorious of all is to know and to continually experience the reality that God Himself is with us right in the midst of our exile, through His precious Holy Spirit - and that He will be with us until the very end of this age of exile, and until The King's glorious return. HALLELUJAH!!!
Comment - 09:14 05Dec21 Joshua VanTine: Sitting here reading this on the first day of the week with the weight of exile hanging upon me and knowing that it is time to turn my head and find Him today. Thank you for the drash and especially the triumphant conclusion "In these days of darkening exile, we need to hear both G-d's voice clearly encouraging us - 'Do not fear to go down into exile for I will go with you' - and Yeshua telling us that He has all authority and will never leave us. That's more than a winning team. We live and walk by faith, knowing that God's promises are true even when they don't feel like it." Hallelujah! For our reality in Him is greater than any emotions that appear to rule. As 1 Yochanan 3:19-20 says "Here is how we will know that we are from the truth and will set our hearts at rest in His presence: if our hearts know something against us, G-d is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything." Thank you for this drash and may the light of Rebbe Melech Yeshua inspire us as we on this last night of the feast of Dedication light all the candles of the Hanukkiah.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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