Why does Yaakov do it? Before he heads on down to Egypt to see his missing and beloved son Yosef, he checks in with Gd, [Gen 46:1-4] Surely, a father as anxious and excited and curious as Yaakov must have been must have had a really good reason for taking the time to stop and sacrifice to Gd and inquire of him first.
Well, the first and most obvious lesson to be gleaned from this is that no matter how much of a hurry we are in, there must always be time to stop and pay homage to Gd. It's a lesson we might all take to heart, as too often we forget, in our haste, to offer our thanks and ask for guidance.
The rabbis and sages tell us that Yaakov was worried about taking himself and his family down to Egypt, among idolaters, who might tempt them and turn them from Gd. For, at this time, Yaakov did not know that Yosef, though now a powerful force in Egypt, was still loyal to Gd, and still believed all was happening according to Gd's desire. But surely Yaakov had hints of this from the reports of his sons, who must have told him of Yosef's blatantly teleological justification of all the bad that had transpired to him and his brothers over time, that it was all according to Gd's plan. But Yaakov, already reluctant to trust his sons (which was the lie-that Yosef was dead, or Yosef was alive and a power in Egypt?) had doubts. And he feared the potential for assimilation. So a stop to both thank Gd for returning his sons and especially Yosef to him alive, and to make sure it was "ok" with Gd to venture down into Egypt, abandoning the land Gd had given to Yaakov and his forebears, makes sense.
The sages, also filling in the gaps, tell us how Yaakov was unwilling to believe his sons that Yosef was alive until he saw the wagons-basing their interpretation on a word play that the word for wagons is also the plural form of calf, and that Yaakov and Yosef, when last together, were studying related sacrificial laws. Still more doubt?
So, what was Yaakov seeking from Gd? Permission to go to Egypt and risk assimilation for his family? Or assurance the this was not a wild goose chase, and Yosef really as alive?
According to the text, however, Yaakov asked nothing of Gd, but only offered sacrifices. It would appear the communication was on Gd's initiative. This puts a new spin on it. Why did Gd think that Yaakov needed this assurance. Gd promises to see Yaakov safely into Egypt, and promises to bring his people back home again. And he promises that Yaakov will be buried by Yosef. So it would seem Yaakov gets the answers to all he asked..er, rather didn't ask.
It all kind of fits in with the pattern. It's only in subsequent interpretation that we have asked why Yaakov stopped in Beersheva, and suggests he was making sure it was OK with Gd to go down to Egypt. But in the plain text, he does no such thing. He simply says "I must go to Egypt to see my son." He heads out and stops in Beersheva to offer sacrifices. And Gd comes to him, unbidden, with reassurance. There was no overt evidence that Yaakov was anything but anxious to go to Egypt and see Yosef. But Gd must have known what was in Yaakov's heart.
And herein lies the key to where I'm heading with this typically random meandering musing of mine. What we learn from Genesis 46:1-4 is that we can trust Gd to know what is in our hearts, what troubles us, and to provide assurance when we need it. In return, we should remember to always take the time to stop and thank Gd.
One wonders what might have happened if Yaakov had not stopped to sacrifice to Gd. Might Gd not have spoken to reassure Yaakov? Might....ah, but we must heed what Yosef says...it is all going according to Gd's plan. Right?
I'm going to take a moment to say thank you to Gd before I hit the send button...
Ok, e-mail, head on out to Goshen and beyond.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
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