The Land of Goshen
A neat little appetizer which I heard a couple years ago when I used to attend a parsha class by Rabbi Emmanuel Berstein (son of the late great Isaac from London).
Upon the climactic revelation of Yosef to his astounded brothers, he relates to them all the urgent and essential information to explain the future plan, and to convince them to cooperate and to return home and relate all this to their father. Despite succeeding to express all this in a few pithy words, Yosef makes explicit mention of the name of the land in which he intends to settle them – Goshen. Pharoah consents to Yosef’s family descending to settle, and awards them the ‘fat of the land’, but only Yosef is particular about the plot of Goshen
We could begin to query – what was so special about Goshen. Furthermore, what would this mean to Yakov, that it was necessary to specify it to him by name – why assume he was at all familiar with the territories of Egypt and their titles?
To find a possible solution, we look into our first recorded oral tradition over 23 hundred years ago, by the early Tanna Eliezer the son of Hurkenos. He relates that when Sarah our holy bubbie was taken by Pharoah (for Abraham had said she was his sister), he offered her as a nuptial gift the fat of the land of land of Egypt, Goshen. And even though the marriage never ensued, (thank heaven) the heritage, and its potential for being a suitable soil for her descendants remains. (The Hebrew word for land, Eretz, is from them same root as current, and urge/will – thus every land is preconditioned to creating different currents and separate peoples. <In case you were wondering, Eretz Yisrael, means the land which is straight (from the word Yashar) to El -G-d, i.e. a place in the world prepared for spirituality and vertical interaction between heaven and earth – Jerusalem is even more distinguished in this regard. Also by the way, this is also the name of our people, for while our power and tendency are enhanced and completed by being on our land, we nonetheless retain within us our potential for elevated ness and spirituality even when we are on the road, and don’t have home-field advantage.>>
In fact we can even find a source for the potentiality of Goshen as Jewish soil in the Chumash itself. When Hashem makes a covenant with Abraham to make him a great nation in Genesis 15:18, and promises to bestow upon him the land to which he has journeyed; The potential boundaries set forth by Hashem extend as ‘the river of Egypt’ ie. the Nile – And lo and behold, Goshen was north of the Nile!
Later in the book Joshua, the plot of each tribe are recorded, and listed among Judah’s portion is Goshen. The classic medieval commentator Radak, claims that is the very same Goshen. And why did Yehuda merit it? Because he was the one sent ahead by Yakov to prepare it for the sustaining of the Jewsih people in exile.
Now that we know Goshen special status, we can appreciate a subtle verb in scripture. There is a general rule that in locomotion, any move towards Israel, and more specifically the Temple, not called going, but rather ‘ascending’ (Thus the term Aliyah – going up, as well as in our 3 pilgrimage festivals, where we all had to ‘go up to the Temple mount.) And moving away is called ‘descending’. But these terms have no use when we are going from place to place in the diaspora. So why then does the Torah say that Yosef ‘ascended to see his father in Goshen? Now we Know.
And so the parsha ends, in a curiously repetitious and apparently reversed fashion “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen” For they were not the same, as we now appreciate.
Wishing you all an ascending shabbos wherever you are
-Beth Shifra Crew