Those who fear God need not be afraid of Him.
46:1 So Yisrael (Overcomes in God) set out, along with everything that belonged to him. When he came to Beer-sheva (Well of sevens/oath), he va’izbach slaughtered animals z’bachiym as blood sacrifices lei’eloheiy to the God of his father Yitzchak (He laughs).
It’s Yisrael (Overcomes in God) who sets out, certain of his corporate identity. Upon Yisrael’s (Both the man and the nation) arrival at Beer-Sheva sacrifices are made for both the nation and the man. However, it is Yaakov (the follower), father of the tribes, who needs to be encouraged by HaShem.
Abraham had made an agreement at Beer-Sheva with Avimelech, planting trees to confirm the location’s importance and give shade to future generations (Gen. 21:22-34), and Yitzchak had previously offered sacrifices at Beer-Sheva (Gen. 26:23-33). It was on his way to Charan just after leaving Beer-Sheva, that Jacob had his dream of the stairway to the heavens (Gen. 28:10-16).
Israel’s sacrificing here a symbol of his intrinsic connection to both his forebears and the land. Beer-sheva was considered to be at the southern border of K’naan and was therefore the last stop before entering into new territory. The well (Beer: mayim chayim waters of living) of complete blessing and promised prosperity (Sheva) is the appropriate place for Jacob/Israel to prepare for his descent into Egypt (Double straits/distress).
It seems clear that Jacob was aware of God’s prophecy to Abram concerning his descendants:
“After these things the word of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) came to Abram (Father of a nation) in a vision saying,
‘Do not fear, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward’…
Then He said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will be enslaved and oppressed 400 years. 14 But I am going to judge the nation that they will serve. Afterward they will go out with many possessions.’” –Genesis 15:1, 13-14
Jacob is said to make blood sacrifices (va’izbach z’bachiym) to the God of his father Isaac because the Torah is making clear the generational connection to the promises of God concerning the Land of Israel. The God of Isaac is also named because He has been identified previously as the “Terror/Dread/Awe of Isaac”. It is this fearful and awe inspiring description of God that will accompany Israel on his (their) journey. Yes, Jacob is leaving the land of his fathers, but only for a time. According to the promise of HaShem he will return (Gen. 15:13-14).
It is a great tragedy that even some of the best English translations mislead the reader (be it intentionally or not) by rendering the Hebrew “va’izbach z’bachiym” as “and offered sacrifices”. The Hebrew zabach, meaning to slaughter, is the root of the Hebrew word mizbeiach (altar) and is employed twice in succession here in reference to the act of slauhtering. The Hebrew zabach always indicates slaughter except when it is qualified by another term. This is also true of the Hebrew mizbeiach, meaning altar, as in the case of an altar of incense (mizbeiach miktar) etc.
Jacob is not simply offering generic sacrifices, which could take any form including offerings of fruit etc. To the contrary, he literally “Slaughters, slaughterings”. The point is that he understands the need for blood covering for the remission of sin. When this text is rendered properly it also alerts the reader to the fact that Jacob sees a need to humble himself before God and seek forgiveness for sin through blood sacrifice, prior to journeying to Egypt. All of this is missed if we read “offered sacrifices”.
The Hebrew commentator Radak affirms this understanding of va’izbach z’bachiym saying that Yaakov “offered meat offerings at Beer-sheva”. Radak goes on to say that “The sacrifices he offered were intended to restore the Holy Spirit to him (Jacob) which had departed when Joseph had departed from him.” (Radak on Bereishit 46:1:1). Regardless of whether we agree with Radak’s theology, he is clearly inferring that Jacob sees a need for propitiation and blood atonement in order to reconcile his spiritual journey with HaShem and receive the present manifestation of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit), in Talmudic terms “The Shechinah” (Manifest feminine Spirit of God).
“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your lives—for it is the blood that makes atonement because of the life.” – Vayikra (Leviticus) 17:11 (TLV)
“And nearly everything is purified in blood according to the Torah, and apart from the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” –Hebrews 9:22 (TLV)
2 And speaking, Elohiym (God: Judge) to Yisrael (Overcomes in God) b’mar’ot in visions/mirrors ha-laylah of the night, said, “Yaakov (Follower at the heel), Yaakov (Follower, disciple).”
It’s Elohiym the Judge who speaks because blood sacrifices have been made as a means of atonement. It is the Judge Who judges the covering and forgives the offense.
We could read the allegory “The Judge spoke to the one who overcomes in God through the reflections of the mirrors of night, saying ‘Follow at My heel, follower, and disciple’.”
The Hebrew “marah”, meaning vision or mirror, conveys the idea that the voice of God is reflected in Jacob’s night time experience. There is a sense of the awesome holiness of God and Jacobs inability as a sinful man to look God full in the face. Thus God’s Word is reflected in the visions. Rav Shaul (Paul the Shaliach: sent one) writes the following words to the Corinthian believers:
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12
The visions of God are mirrors reflecting the light of eternity into our present reality and leading us into futures already held complete in God’s hands. When God speaks we are assured of things unseen and warmed by the reflected light of His glory (k’vod). His present eternity is made real in our fading reality.
Beer-Sheva is the tipping point of trust. Once beyond this point Jacob is fully committed to his course of action. He needs reassurance from HaShem that he is prepared for what lies ahead. Thus HaShem calls to him in order to show Jacob that he is ready and to encourage him in the knowledge that he will not be going alone.
And Yaakov responded, “Hineini,” (Here I am, ready, willing, attentive, I’m standing to attention, I know it’s You, I’ve been prepared before now, I’m obedient, I’m present, No one but You could stop me, I’m certain of Your intentions, I’m afraid but am willing to act on Your instructions regardless).
In Jacob’s response the Sages see the instigation of the Maariv (Evening prayer service).
“Therefore, Yaakov the Patriarch of exile, originated Maariv, to show his children that the exile/night might be the epilogue to one day, but it is prologue to another, even better one” –Meshech Chochmah
Just as his forefathers had done, Jacob offers the contrite and holy response, “Hineini”. I’m utterly laid bare before You HaShem, instruct me, I am willing to go where you lead.
3 And He (God) said, “I am Ha-El the God, Eloheiy God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Mitzrayim (Egypt, double straits/distress), for I will turn you into a great nation there. 4 I Myself will go down with you to Mitzrayim Egypt and I Myself will also bring you up. Yosef (YVHV: Mercy adds) will lay his hands upon your eyes.”
This is God’s only speech in chapters 37-50 and He uses this time to reiterate His promise to Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 12:2-3; 26:2-5). Thus He is assuring Jacob that his leaving the Promised Land does not change the fact that God will honour His commitment to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “I myself will also bring you up” (v.4). This is a foreshadowing of the future exodus and brings to mind the words of the Passover Haggadah:
“Our father Jacob did not come down to strike roots in Egypt but only to sojourn there.”
Israel is not descending into Egypt in order to be destroyed. Rather he is going down (humbling himself) in order that God might bring him up (redemption). God has already promised Jacob that Israel will become a great nation there (They became 600,000, besides children; Gen. 46:27 Exodus 1:7; 12:37), and that the land of Israel will be kept for the people of Israel in perpetuity. According to the promise of God, Who does not lie.
Yarchi takes the words “I Myself will also bring you up” to be a promise that Jacob will be buried in the land of Canaan, which had its fulfilment, when his corpse was carried out of Egypt to Machpelah, and there interred.
God had previously instructed Isaac not to go down to Egypt during a past famine, waiting instead for the right time in human history (Perhaps corresponding to the latter Hyksos period), when He will seed a great nation in the midst of a great famine.
The Rabbi Sforno writes:
“I am the One Who told your father (Isaac) ‘do not go down to Egypt’ (Gen. 26:2-3), I am also the One Who tells you ‘do not be afraid to go down to Egypt at this time’. The difference is that the time has come. If you were to remain in Canaan at this time, your family would intermarry in short order with the members of the local population, so that they would become assimilated to them and the future of a Jewish nation would be jeopardised. This is something that will not happen in Egypt.” –Sforno on Bereishit (Genesis) 46:3:1
“Lay his hands on your eyes” is an idiomatic expression referring to the act of closing the eyes of one who has died (Ibn Ezra). Both Maimonides and the writers of the Talmud agree that the closing of the eyes of the dead, is among the appropriate rites used towards them (Hilchot Ebel, l. 4. sect. 1; Talmud. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 151. 2.). The use of this expression assures Jacob that the son whom he had once thought dead will outlive him. This strengthens Jacob’s resolve in going down to Egypt.
It’s worth repeating that the God of Isaac, in whose name Jacob has sacrificed, is known as “The Dread/Fear of Isaac”, and yet it is this same God Who commands Isaac’s son Jacob, “Do not be afraid”. What this teaches us is that those who fear God need not be afraid of Him. The title “Dread of Isaac” is intended for those who seek to harm the chosen people of God. The children of HaShem need not be afraid of Him.
5 Then Yaakov (Follower at the heel) arose from Beer-Sheva (Well of seven/oath) and the children of Yisrael (Overcome in El) carried Yaakov their father, their little children, and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh (Great House) had sent to carry him.
It is Jacob the follower who arises to go and the sons of Israel the nation, carry the follower Jacob, the last of the great Patriarchs (Patriarch of Exile), and all his household, down to Egypt.
The current verse shows us that Jacob is to be included in the final sum of 70 recorded at the end of the listing of his household.
It is noteworthy that Jacob's wives aren’t mentioned here, it is likely that they were all now dead; it is certain Rachel was (Gen. 35:19), and it’s likely that Leah died before this time, since Jacob says he buried her himself in Machpelah in Canaan (Gen. 49:31). It’s also very likely that his two concubine wives Bilhah and Zilpah were dead.
6 They also took their livestock and their possessions they had acquired in the land of K’naan (Humility, lowland) and they came to Mitzrayim Egypt, Yaakov (Follower) and all his offspring with him. 7 His sons and his grandsons with him, his daughters and his granddaughters, and all his offspring, he brought with him to Mitzrayim Egypt.
This general accounting of the household of Jacob serves the primary purpose of conveying the fact that all of Jacob’s bloodline are descending to Egypt. This is a defining moment in distinguishing who will become part of the roots of ethnic Israel the nation. Those rabbis who foolishly claim that being Jewish has nothing to do with ethnic lineage are sadly mistaken. Though many will marry into Israel in future times through conversion and devotion to God, the primary bloodline remains as a distinct reminder of the Jewish peoples intrinsic connection to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the history recorded in the Torah. Yes, there is a religious component to the identity of the Jewish people, there is also a cultural aspect, but these things do not deny the bloodline at the root of our nation (Where ever we are dispersed). In his excellent book titled Legacy, author Harry Ostrer presents definitive evidence of the common DNA marker present in Jewish people from diverse cultures and locations throughout the world. His science affirms what the Torah teaches, that “the life is in the blood”.
The mention of daughters and granddaughters refers both to those born and to those who are yet to be born in Egypt, and probably includes Sarah the daughter of Asher (Gen. 46:5) We must remember that Moses is writing this down many years later and is including his knowledge of the greater house of Israel in Egypt in order to show that all of Israel both at the time of Jacob’s descent and into the future, are considered to have descended into Mitzrayim (double distress: Egypt). The fact that all the names of daughters/daughters-in-law (Dinah etc. ref. Radak on Gen. 46:7:1) and granddaughters are not included in the following accounting, by no means excludes them from the household. The Torah is conveying the perfect number 70 as symbolizing the completion and prosperity of Israel as a people. This is not intended as a precise genealogical record. This is why there are variant names in other accounts (Num. 26:38-40; 1 Chronicles 7:6; 8:1), where sons are named as grandsons. These grandsons are included here in anticipation of their birth (Hebrews 7:10).
The List of Members of Yaakov’s Household who went down to Egypt
The following list seeks to give an overview of the house of Israel as it enters Egypt. The numbers of people adding up to seventy in total are meant to convey symbolic meaning. Thus the threes indicate the unity of God and revelation, while the number seventy combines the two numbers of wholeness and perfection 10 x 7 = 70.
Ultimately the meaning is that God has brought to wholeness and completion the beginnings of a holy nation whom He will multiply and bless, making them a great nation according to His promise. He also promises to return Israel to the land of promise, making her a light to the nations, who are also represented in the number 70 according to the table of nations recorded in Genesis 10.
This list arranges the family of Jacob according to the order of his wives, first listing the children of Leah and her maid Zilpah and then the children of Rachel and her maid Bilhah.
8 Now these are the names of the b’nai children of Yisrael (Overcome in God) who came to Mitzrayim (Egypt: land of double distress), Yaakov (Follower) and his sons: Yaakov’s firstborn, Reuven (Behold a son), 9 and Reuven’s sons: Chanoch (Dedicated), Palu (distinguished), Chezron (Surrounded by a wall) and Carmi (My vineyard). 10 Shimon’s (heard) sons: Yemuel (Day of God), Yamiyn (Right hand), Ohad (United), Yachiyn (He will establish), Tzochar (Reddish grey: tawny) and Shaul (Desired) the son of the K’naani woman. 11 Levi’s (joined to) sons: Gershon (exile), Kohat (assembly) and Merari (bitter). 12 Yehudah’s (Praise) sons: Er (Awake, watchful), Onan (strong), Shelah (A petition), Peretz (Breach) and Zerah (rising). Er died along with Onan in the land of K’naan. Perez’s (Breach) sons were Chezron (Surrounded by a wall) and Chamul (spared). 13 Yissachar’s (There is recompense/reward) sons: Tola (Worm), Puah (splendid), Yob (persecuted) and Shimron (watch, height, guardian). 14 Zebulun’s (Exalted) sons: Sered (Fear), Elon (Mighty, terebinth) and Yachleel (YHVH Mercy waits). 15 These are Leah’s (Weary) sons whom she bore to Yaakov in Paddan-aram (Field of Aram: exaltation), along with his daughter Dinah (judgement). The tally of all of his sons and daughters was 33 people.
From both the previous verses and from the statement of verse 8 “Yaakov and his sons” we conclude that the number 33 is inclusive of Jacob. In one sense we can understand the tally to mean “The number representing all his sons and daughters was 33”. If we understand the numbers symbolically we are more in tune with the intention of Moses.
16 Gad’s (troop) sons: Tziphion (lookout), Chaggi (My festival), Shuni (rest, providence), Ezbon (Discern in haste), Eri (My watcher), Arodi (I shall roam, subdue) and Areli (My Lion of God). 17 Asher’s (Happy) sons: Yimnah (right hand), Yishvah (He will resemble), Yishvi (He resembles me), Beriyah (with a friend), and Serach (The princes spirit/breath) their sister. Beriyah’s (with a friend) sons: Chever (friend) and Malkiyel (My King is God). 18 These are the sons of Zilpah (A trickling), whom Laban (White) gave to Leah (weary) his daughter. She bore these to Yaakov: 16 people. 19 The sons of Yaakov’s wife Rachel (ewe): Yosef (YHVH Mercy adds) and Benyamin (Son of my right hand). 20 Menashe (Causing to forget) and Ephraim (Doubly fruitful) were born to Yosef in the land of Mitzrayim Egypt--As’nat (Belonging to Neit) the daughter of Potiphera (He whom Ra gave) priest of On (strength) bore them to him. 21 Benyamin’s (Son of my right hand) sons: Bela (destruction), Becher (young camel), Ashbel (Man of God/husband), Gera (a grain), Naaman (pleasantness), Ehi (My brother), Rosh (head), Muppim (Serpent), Huppim (protected) and Ard (I shall subdue). 22 These are Rachel’s sons who were born to Yaakov. The tally of all the people was 14. 23 The sons of Dan (Judge): Chushim (make haste) 24 Naphtali’s (wrestling) sons: Yachtzel (God divides), Guni (My defender), Yetzer (forming, inclination) and Shillem (repaid). 25 These are the sons of Bilhah (troubled) whom Laban (white) gave to Rachel (ewe) his daughter and she bore these to Yaakov. The tally of all the people was seven. 26 All the people belonging to Yaakov who came to Mitzrayim Egypt—those coming from his loins (not counting the wives of Yaakov’s sons)—the tally of all the people was 66.
In order to reach the total of 66, Dinah must be added (v.15) making 71 and 5 names subtracted: Er and Onan (buried in K’naan), Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, who are already in Egypt. Thus we reach the number of descendants traveling with him, which is 66. The following verse then adds Joseph and his sons to equal 69, plus Jacob, the sum being seventy.
27 The sons of Yosef who were born to him in Mitzrayim Egypt was a tally of two people. The tally of all the people belonging to Yaakov’s house who came to Mitzrayim Egypt was 70.
The Daat Zkenim romantically suggests that it is God Who makes up the 70th person of Jacob’s household, saying that though 70 are said to descend only 69 are mentioned. However, this is easily explained with the inclusion of Jacob and the fact that while Jacob may be a member of God’s household, God is not a member of Jacob’s household (With the exception of course of Yeshua [God with us] the King Messiah).
28 Now he sent Yehudah (Praise) before him to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) in order to direct his face to Goshen (Drawing near).
The plan meaning shows Judah’s role as King of the tribes. He is going ahead to make preparations for Israel’s settlement in Goshen.
The follower sent praise before him to the one who adds mercy in order to guide his face to draw near.
There is a beautiful allegory here. Judah (Praise), the father of the tribe that later brings us the King Messiah, goes before Israel into the land of Egypt, a land that will become synonymous with slavery, bondage and death. Thus we are shown a picture of our Messiah entering this fallen, death affected world, in order to bring us to a place of drawing near to God (Goshen).
When they came to the land of Goshen (Drawing near), 29 Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds) harnessed his chariot and went up to Goshen to meet his father Yisrael. As soon as he appeared before him, he fell upon his neck, and wept on his neck for some time.
The plain meaning is clear, Joseph had longed for this day of reconciliation and is utterly overwhelmed. Tears of grief over years lost mix with tears of joy at seeing his aged father.
The sages say that Jacob recited the Shema (Deut. 6:4) at this moment (Rashi). The reciting of the Shema is an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. This is why Jacob is said to have chanted the famous prayer upon seeing his beloved son Joseph (Aryeh). Jacob finally realizes what he has always believed, that God is in control of all things.
Rambam suggests that the verb “wept” applies to Jacob rather than Joseph, who is the antecedent to the preceding pronoun eilayu (toward him). If this is correct we would read “And he (Jacob) fell on (Joseph’s) neck and he (Jacob) wept.”
30 Then Yisrael (Overcomes in God) said to Yosef (YHVH: Mercy adds), “At this time I am ready to die, after seeing your face in person—for you’re still alive!”
For years Jacob has been mourning his son Joseph in bitter depression and has been focussed on his own mortality in light of the loss of his favoured son. Now his talk of death takes on new meaning. Rather than dying in the bitterness of grief and loss, unwilling to go on in life, he instead looks forward to dying in the knowledge of God’s faithfulness, due to having seen his beloved son alive, Jacob himself is reborn.
31 Then Yosef said to his brothers and to his father’s household, “I’ll go up and tell Pharaoh (Great house), and say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household who were in the land of K’anaan have come to me. 32 The men are shepherds, for they’ve been men who handle livestock, who have brought their flocks and cattle and everything that they possess.’ 33 So when Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ 34 you must say, ‘Your servants have been men who handle livestock since the time of our youth until now, both we and our fathers,’ so that you can live in the land of Goshen, because every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.”
Joseph seems to be coaching his family on how to ensure that they will receive the fertile land of Goshen and at the same time keep themselves separate from the idolatrous Egyptian culture. Thus he urges them to emphasize the fact that they are shepherds, a profession the animal worshipping Egyptians despised. It is also possible however, that the Egyptians despised foreign shepherds in particular rather than shepherds in general.
By identifying themselves as foreign shepherds they were ensuring their possession of the land of Goshen for their herds and will be kept from future assimilation due to Goshen’s semi isolated location [Goshen was a fertile region in northeast Egypt, east of the Nile delta, which contained the country’s most fertile soil and is called the best of the land (Gen. 47:6)]. This in turn would keep their own worship practices alive and strengthen their devotion to HaShem. In this environment they would strengthen their bloodlines and multiply, growing from strength to strength.
Israel’s practical role as shepherd informed her spiritual growth and her identity as the sheep of the Shepherd over all nations, HaShem and His Messiah (Psalm 80:1; 23, Jer. 31:10). Shepherds are tasked with caring for and nurturing dependent animals, sheep are prone to wondering and in need of protection. Within this role the Israelites learned to identify their own shortcomings as the chosen sheep of HaShem, and their need to rely on Him completely. It is no surprise that the idea of shepherding was despicable to the Egyptians, who had slaves do this menial work and spent their days involved in less honourable pursuits such as, idolatry, political intrigue and occult practices, to name a few.
It is possible that these events took place during the Hyksos reign 1680-1540 BCE. Which makes it unlikely that the Egyptian hatred for Shepherds is associated, as some claim, with the aftermath of the so called “Shepherd Kings” of the Hyksos (Syro-Palestinian invaders). Anyone caught dishonouring the Hyksos leaders of the time would have been dealt with severely. It is also clear from the text itself that the Pharaoh of our text shares the same dislike for shepherds as the rest of the Egyptian community. Therefore, he does not consider himself a “Shepherd King”, a title used in folk tradition long after the Hyksos period.
On the other hand, if these events took place at a later period in Egyptian history, it must be stressed that Egyptians had slaves who shepherded their own herds and flocks. Thus it seems likely, as previously stated, that their hatred was for foreign shepherds rather than for shepherds in general.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.