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Understanding the Story of Joseph and His Brothers, Part 3

December 31, 2014

(part 1, part 2)

When Jacob and his family left Canaan for what they thought was going to be a five-year sojourn, they lost more than just their freedom: they lost a way to hold on to all of the properties they had acquired in Canaan and all of the servants and hangers on they left behind. The “souls they had made in Haran” and the people described by Maimonides (Laws of Idolatry 1):

When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain [them] to each one of them according to their understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are the men of the house of Abraham… This concept proceeded and gathered strength among the descendants of Jacob and those who collected around them, until there became a nation within the world which knew God…

were not invited to ride out the famine in Egypt. This is one of the reasons the verses stress

…and take your father and your households, and come unto me; and I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and ye shall eat the fat of the land.

and

And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him; his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.

and

And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him; his sons, and his sons’ sons with him, his daughters, and his sons’ daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.

and give so many details about the actual family members by numbers. They came, but not their servants, and not their followers. Joseph wanted everyone to come ride out the famine; Pharaoh just wanted Joseph’s family, and for good, and did not wish to care for hangers-on. Because the disciples lacked proper guidance by the core of Jacob’s family, they eventually disappeared from history, and over the next three centuries until the return of the Hebrews, the Canaanites slid back and then even deeper into the idolatrous practices that permeated their culture and land. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could find and establish clean places of worship in Canaan; The Jews could not, but were rather bidden to destroy all the vestiges of idolatry that were “upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could make treaties with Canaanites; the Jews were forbidden from doing so. This is, therefore, the beginning of the horrible “Egyptian Exile” described by our sages and the verse in Joshua known from the Haggada:

And I took your father Abraham from beyond the river, and I led him throughout the whole land of Canaan. I increased his seed and gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave Mount Seir to possess it, and Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.

When all of the other Hebrew branches were successfully settling their lands, the Israelites were nearly decimated by the Egyptians, and it is precisely because the historical miracle of the Exodus was so great that a new law was legislated to commemorate it, a new law that would always invoke the memory of the Exodus as the reason for the major commandments.

And, just as the forefathers had many followers not of their own families, the Israelites would accumulate other strangers and multitudes on their way out of Egypt, Babylon, and America.

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