Torah Portion: Vayigash (And he approached)
Torah Reading: Genesis 44:18-47:27
Prophetic Reading: Ezekiel 37:15-28
“Punishment for the Purpose of Spiritual Change”
In this week’s Torah reading, Jacob receives a special vision. It is a special vision for a few reasons. The term that is used here is unique. This is the only place that the expression מראות הלילה appears in the Bible. Although it is usually translated as a “night vision” the word מראות is more closely associated with an appearance. The definite article appears in the phrase so actually it must be translated as follows:
“And G-d said to Israel in The Night Appearance ….” Genesis 46:2
Translating the phrase so literally makes it sound very awkward in English. However, this awkwardness only serves to emphasize the significance of the text. The reader should glean from the phrase that this revelation to Jacob has great importance. As one reads, it becomes clear that the “vision” concerns Jacob and all his family descending to Egypt. This, in one sense, is not good news. Descending to Egypt is akin to going into exile. Exile, according to Judaism, is a type of punishment. Why therefore is HaShem punishing Israel? The answer is because of their sin against Joseph, selling him into slavery. Yes G-d punishes sin, but what is taught in the parashah is that the purpose of the punishment is not to destroy Israel, but to bring about a change in their spiritual condition.
As believers, HaShem will also punish us. Usually we view this unpleasant experience as misfortune, and we simply want out of the situation. We do not ask, “What have I done to bring this discipline upon myself?” We frequently blame others and never ask, “What does G-d want me to learn from this experience?” We tend to confuse Divine punishment with persecution.
When HaShem spoke to Jacob, he responded to G-d with the phrase, “Here am I” הנני. This expression is well known in Judaism and appears several times in the book of Genesis, usually with Abraham responding to G-d. The term implies one who is available for whatever HaShem wants to do to this person or with this person. Hence when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, do not immediately pray to HaShem asking to be removed from the problem, but be available to be changed by this experience. Remember what G-d said to Jacob in verse 4. Although Israel was going into exile, HaShem promised to descend with the people and to bring them back up. In other words, the descent is not to
keep you down, but only for the purpose of restoring you to where G-d wants you to be, but in a new condition. Change often involves you being brought low, because humility is a necessary ingredient for true change.