Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parasha #11: Vayigash (He approached) B’resheit (Genesis) 44:18-47:27
Haftarah: Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) 37:15-28
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:9-16 (specifically vv.13-15)
If we look more deeply into this week’s Torah portion we can derive a truth not obvious to the casual reader. Let us examine this portion from a mystical or Kabbalistic perspective.
From the very beginning the Torah connects Jacob and Joseph more closely and intimately than with any of his other sons. In Genesis 37:2 we read these words:
These are the generations of Jacob; Joseph was seventeen years old;
Why does YHVH make this connection so obvious in His Torah? Because Yosef holds the key to the commission and mission assigned by YHVH Elohim to Yaakov’s family .To examine this mission from the mystical or Kabbalistic perspective we have to go back to where it all began.
In Genesis 17:1-12 we read:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to Abram, He said to him: ‘I am El Shaddai, walk with me and be complete, and I will make a covenant between me and you, and cause you to become exceedingly multiplied … Thy name shall be Abraham … This is my covenant, which you shall guard between Me and you, and your descendants who shall follow. Circumcise every male. And you shall circumcise the flesh of the foreskin; this will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. On the eighth day you shall circumcise all the males among you…
G-d making his covenant with Abram commands the patriarch to circumcise himself and all his descendants. We see also the addition of the letter hay and vav to Abram’s name becoming Avraham to signify a new turn in his life and identity; one intimately connected to G-d. Another thing we see in these passages is how G-d identifies Himself. G-d gives His name and El Shaddai. This is the first occurrence of Shaddai in Scripture. When the blessing of Abraham is passed on, the name of G-d is invoked as Shaddai. When Yitzhak (Isaac) sends Yaakov (Jacob) away and forbids him to select a wife from among the local inhabitants he blesses his son by saying:
‘El Shaddai shall bless you. May you become fruitful and multiply. May you become a large nation. May (He) give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you.’ (Genesis 28:1-4)
After the angel gives a new name to Jacob the Torah reads:
The Lord said to him: ‘Your name is Jacob. No longer will your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ And He named him Israel. The Lord said to him, ‘I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation, a great nation shall descend from you, and kings will emerge from your loins.’ (Genesis 35:10-11)
I hope you see a pattern emerging. When G-d blesses the patriarchs with many descendants the name of G-d employed is Shaddai. I might add that the root of Shaddai means “breasted one.” This pattern, coupled with the Hebrew derivative of the word Shaddai suggests this is correct. Note that the passage just quoted is the only usage of this Divine Name until this point in Torah. The next time we encounter it is when Yaakov agrees to send Benjamin to Egypt. The Torah reads in Genesis 43:14:
‘May El Shaddai give you mercy before the man. May He send your brother (Simon) and Benjamin back …’ [Genesis 43:14]
Furthermore, we see that in the last days of Ya’akov’s life the name Shaddai is used twice only in connection with Joseph. Again the topic is children or descendants. In the first instance Yaakov is blessing his grandchildren, the sons of Yosef: Manasseh and Ephraim who are the only grandchildren to receive this blessing directly. In this instance Yaakov recounts certain events of his life to Yosef and says:
And Jacob said to Joseph, ‘El Shaddai appeared to me in Luz and blessed me.’ (Genesis 48:5)
In the second instance and the last time Shaddai is used in Genesis Yaakov blesses Yosef. In Genesis 49:25-26 we read:
” … May the El of your father help you, and Shaddai bless you, blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the depths, which couch below, blessings of the breast and womb. The blessings of your father are potent beyond those of my ancestors, to the utmost boundary of the ever-lasting hill; they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown on the head of he who was separated from his brothers.”
Please note that in this instance Joseph receives the blessings which Yaakov received from G-d directly, from his father Isaac, and grandfather Abraham. See how Yaakov refers first to El and then to Shaddai. What do you think is the significance? These passages are the only uses of this name, Shaddai, of G-d in Genesis. From this we may conclude that:
1. The name of Shaddai is connected with progeny,
2. and the blessing becomes Yosef’s (Joseph’s).
The first time the name Shaddai is used in the Book of Exodus is also of interest:
Elohim (Ruach HaKodesh) spoke to Moses, and said ‘I am YHVH,I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, and (but) My name, YHVH, I did not make known to them.’ (Exodus 6:2-3)
The mission of Moshe will require a different type of relationship than that enjoyed by the patriarchs, and he will relate to God not as Shaddai but as YHVH. This then brings us to the meaning of G-d’s names:
1. The name of God used in the description of creation is Elohim, the Almighty. The name implies omnipotence, and interestingly has the same numeric value as hateva, “nature.” Kabbalistic tradition states that Elohim is just one aspect of G-d and Kabbalistic texts prefer the name Ein Sof (without end) as being more accurate in describing the nature of G-d. According to Kabbalah, Ein Sof better describes G-d as being without end and transcendent. The Zohar suggests that the first verse in the Torah should better be translated as “in the beginning Elohim was created by the transcendental Ein Sof.”’ Kabbalistic thought places G-d beyond mans’ ability to categorize G-d and the best we can do is in effect anthropomorphism.”
What then does Shaddai mean from the Kabbalistic viewpoint? The Gemara teaches us that the name Shaddai comes from the word dai meaning “enough” or “stop.” In the Kabbalistic description of creation the world emerged as a result of the transcendental G-d contracting, a process known as tzimzum allowing a world of nature to emerge. So in effect as Resh Lakish said, “What does the verse mean ‘I am El Shaddai’? I am He who told the world ‘Enough!’ When The Holy One, Blessed be He created the sea, it kept on expanding until the Holy One Blessed be He chastised the [sea], and it stopped” (Chagiga 12a). The name Shaddai from this perspective then means limitations on nature.
An example of this limitation is seen in Yosef’s relationship with the wife of Potiphar. He displays his ability to control natural sexual drives. The Kabbalistic term associated with Yosef is Yesod meaning “foundation.” Yosef is known as HaTzaddik for his ability to control his natural drives and the term Tzakkik Yesod Olam associated with him means “a good and just man is the foundation of the world.”
Yosef is the foundation of all Israel. His life experience with all the many devastating variables possible demonstrates G-d’s providence and preservation of His seed and the unification of Judah and Ephraim into the nation Israel. Yosef is also the source for the nation and for the eventual exodus of (all) Israel from Egypt (sin) and the type of the final unification of Judah and Ephraim as Israel into the coming Kingdom of G-d. Yosef is the foreshadowing of Yahshua HaMashiach, L-rd of Lords, King of Kings, L-rd and Master of a coming united Israel.
Moshe wrote of Yosef and there is more written in the Torah about him than any other man. YHVH Elohim must have given Yosef prominence for an important reason. We see that Moshe brings Yosef out of Egypt to be buried in the land of Israel. Yosef’s example of his ability to control his own nature by the human manifestation of Shaddai must have inspired Moshe and gives us added insight into the foregoing verses. It also gives us an understanding of how G-d shows us His nature and His attributes through His names.
This concept and the attribute of Shaddai lead us to understand that no nation like Israel could have come into existence without it. Understanding these aspects of G-d will help us to come into greater knowledge of Him and His great plan for mankind. Standing on the foundation represented by Yosef, continued by Moshe, and culminating in Yahshua HaMashiach, the final Yosef, we can more surely comprehend the plan of G-d. We can see the end laid out before us. We wait until that day that He sets up the earthly reign of His kingdom from Jerusalem in the land of His fathers from the nation of Israel, built on the foundation of Yosef and His greater Son Yahshua, B’Shem Yahshua HaMashiach.
Haftarah: (Yechezk’el 37:15)
In this week’s Parasha we see Y’hudah willing to be Yosef’s slave.
In the Haftarah, the prophet Yechezk’el is told by G-d to prepare two pieces of wood. On one piece he is to write Y’hudah (Judah) and on the other Israel and then to take another stick and write Ephraim upon it as the verses below reveal.
16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:
17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.
18 And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not show us what thou meanest by these?
19 Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand.
YHVH Elohim was essentially telling the prophet that by taking Y’hudah and Ephraim and placing them together, G-d would unite them one day as Israel and end their exile.
The Jews went to Egypt because Y’hudah and Yosef weren’t united. Now YHVH was going to unite the two in the land of Israel. A foreshadowing of Judah/Israel and Ephraim/ Israel with their companions Gentiles being united in the latter days to be fully united in the land of Israel at the Messiah’s Second Event.
B’rit Chadashah: Acts 7:9-16 (specifically 13-15)
“The second time, Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, and Yosef’s family became known to Pharaoh. Yosef then sent for his father Ya’akov and all his relatives, seventy–five people. And Ya’akov went down to Egypt; there he died, as did our ancestors.”
This narrative is taken from Stephen’s speech to those in the Sanhedrin as a result of false accusations of blasphemy against Moshe and G-d. Members of the Synagogue of the Freed Slaves as they were called, argued with Stephen in this matter. These members included Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and the province of Asia. Recall that Stephen was full of grace and power and was enabled to perform great miracles and signs among the people. He had been chosen by the Twelve talmidim to address the complaining of the Greek-speaking Jews against the Hebrew-speaking Jews that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:1).
So rumors were initiated and spread that Stephen blasphemed against Moshe and G-d. They stirred up tot Torah teachers, elders, and the people who led him before the Sanhedrin and arranged for some to say that Stephen never stopped speaking against the holy place and against the Torah; for we have heard him say that Yahshua from Natzeret will destroy this place and will change the customs Moshe handed down to us” (Acts 6:11-14).
Stephen now proceeds to answer these charges, not as one defending himself but as a witness to the gospel (Lk 21:13). He exposes the falseness of the charges as he affirms his loyalty to G-d’s law and true worship. But more important, he reveals how religious effort, in this case first-century Judaism, is an obstacle to the other half of a saving relationship with G-d; that is understanding Yahshua as G-d incarnate who taught man the spirit of the Law as well as the letter of the Law and how the two must be practiced in our daily lives.
Similarly, Stephen himself, full of wisdom and grace, has been made responsible for food distribution for G-d’s people (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). Though Joseph’s brothers and Stephen’s opponents meant their attacks for evil, G-d is not thwarted, for He can turn it to good. In Joseph’s case, G-d protected his chosen preserver of the covenant people, preparing the way for the survival of generations.
Famine struck Canaan as well as Egypt. Jacob and his family were on the point of starvation (heurisko) in the negative imperfect points to “lasting inability”–Kistemaker 1990:249), and the covenant promises were on the verge of dying out in the fourth and fifth generations. Then they gained relief by sending to Egypt for food (see Gen 41:54, 57; 42:2, 5). Not only did Joseph preserve them alive, but on the second visit he revealed himself to them and effected a reconciliation (Acts 7:13; Gen 45:1-16). The parallel is that when Yahshua returns, he will reveal himself to those who did not recognize or believe that He was also the suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. Until then, He provides for those who love Him through this earthly spiritual famine.
Stephen concludes this portion of Israel’s history with the note that Joseph sent for Jacob and the whole family, seventy-five souls, and so they settled in Egypt (Acts 7:14). He tells us of the patriarchs’ deaths and their burial in Sh’chem in Canaan. So God’s purposes–both his eternal covenant with Abraham to build a great nation and his prophecy that there would be a sojourn in another country–were being accomplished. Their final instructions were to have their bones buried in the land. And this their sons did in hope.
The wilderness journey or exile as we may call it, is our training/lives on this earth; at the race to win the prize as described by Sha’ul. True believers will experience trouble and exile as we draw closer to Yahshua’s return and establishment of the Millennial Kingdom. Just as the patriarchs and prophets maintained faith in the eye of the storms they experienced, we must keep our eye on the prize and pray for strength, wisdom from above, and grace as we travel. The constants of a covenant relationship, now as then, are G-d’s word of promise and his powerful working to fulfill it, his presence in every place, and the necessity of obedient faith to lay hold of the promise.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart