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Joyful Coercion

Friday, 25 December, 2020 - 9:02 am

Some things in life we embrace joyfully.

At other times, we are forced to deal with the situation presented to us.

Is it possible to be coerced and still embrace an undertaking with joy and passion?


In this week’s parsha, Vayigash, Yaakov (Jacob) and his entire family relocate from the land of Canaan to Egypt.

Yaakov was excited to go to Egypt in order to be reunited with his long-lost son, Yosef (Joseph).

However, he was also hesitant and fearful to leave the Holy land and dwell in the pagan land of Egypt. G-d reassures him: “Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.”

Of course, the ultimate reason that G-d wanted Yaakov to go to Egypt would be the eventual enslavement of the Jewish people. Finally, after a painful and bitter exile, they would leave as a great nation.

Yaakov knew that Hashem had promised his grandfather Avraham that his descendants would be slaves in a foreign land. He knew this was no vacation. It was the beginning of exile. It only makes sense that he was fearful.

If his real fear was about the future enslavement of the Jewish people, how was that allayed? And, if G-d was able to convince him to relocate to Egypt, why did G-d need to create this nefarious plan of Yosef being sold into slavery and then becoming viceroy of Egypt?

Yaakov – and thus the Jewish people – could have come into exile crawling on all fours. It could have been forced upon them by G-d under harsh conditions.

Instead, Yosef served as viceroy and the king, Pharaoh, welcomed them as royalty.

You might call it a soft landing into an eventual exile.

Yet, it still came at great pain and agony. For 22 years Yaakov believed his son was dead. If the real goal was to get the Jews to Egypt, couldn’t G-d have figured out a simpler, less dramatic plan?


But herein lies the entire purpose of – and attitude toward – exile. Exile is not home. It’s a foreign place. A place I should not want to be. If I go voluntarily – it’s not exile! So, Yaakov needed to be forced, painfully, into exile.

But, this could lead to despair and dismay. So, Hashem also ensured that they would arrive with glory and honor, indicating that – as He had promised - there I will make you into a great nation. You might be in exile, but exile will never really define you.

By starting their stay in Egypt under coercive, yet pleasant, conditions – G-d was teaching us the role of exile. And, what our attitude toward it should be:

Never feel comfortable with exile itself. Don’t ever allow it to feel like home.

But, embrace the mission.

Then you will always remain above the fray of the challenges you face.

Today is the Tenth of Tevet, the onset of the tragedies leading to the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which we mourn to this day.

So, until Jerusalem is speedily rebuilt, we will joyfully embrace our coerced mission.

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