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To Influence or be Influenced?

By Rabbi Benjamin Stone
December 20, 2017

We find that Yaakov issued only one instruction in connection with his family’s sudden departure to Egypt – that Yehuda should travel ahead of the party to set up a beit midrash (Rashi46:28). Yaakov’s decision to give this instruction needs explanation.Pharaoh had already promised Yaakov and his family “the goodness of Egypt” (25:18) whilst Yosef had promised ownership of land in Goshen; it would seem that establishing a beitmidrashwould be a fairly simple matter. Why therefore was it necessary to send Yehuda to make arrangements in advance?

Another question: We find that Yosef considered very carefully how to let Pharoah know that his brothers were shepherds by trade.This is because in Egypt shepherds were considered an abomination (46:34). It is most surprising that Yosef chose todisclose this information to Pharoahonly once his brothers had arrived in the country. Surely he should have given Pharoahthe chance to decide for himself whether he wanted to admit them at all in the first place?

R’ Moshe Mordechai Epstein zts”l (Levush Mordechai)answers that initially Yosef had no intention of settling his brothers in Goshen.He believedthat they should do away with a trade that would win them no friends and that they should seek to live in the city in the hope of integrating into Egyptian society. They would thenbe able to live the ideal, as Yosef had – climbing the “greasy pole” of high society whilst at the same time staying true to their yiddishkeit.They might also be able to influence Egyptian society for the good, as Yosef had done.

In contrast, Yaakov’s intention in sending Yehuda ahead of the party was for himto tell Yosef that there was no way that his family was going to base itself in the main cities of Egypt where they would be at risk of being influenced. Instead they would settle in the pastures of Goshen where they would be able to serve Hashem without distraction. Yosef’s experience of withstanding temptation and actually exerting a positive influence on his environment was not to be taken as the norm.

In light of the above it is clear that Yosefdid not in fact know that his brothers would be continuing with their old way of life -living in the countryside as shepherds – until Yehuda informed him of Yaakov’s wish that they do so. When the brothers arrived shortly thereafter,Yosefwas forced, with extreme discomfort, to let Pharoahknow that his family in fact represented, in great numbers, the profession which Egypt most despised.


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