The Land of Goshen
הרב זכריה טובי
Parshat Vayigash tells of the descent of Yaakov and the tribes to Egypt and the designation of their dwelling place, "the land of Goshen," as it says: "Yosef said to his brothers ... when Pharaoh summons you ... Then you are to say, 'Your servants have been cattlemen' ... so that you may be able to settle on the land of Goshen." So it was, "Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen; they acquired property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied greatly." (ch. 46-47)
What was special about that place called "the land of Goshen," and why was it called by this name?
The simple understanding is that this place was far from the Egyptian population, to be separate from the Egyptians and not to be influenced by Egyptian culture. Therefore, Yosef sought to settle his brothers there. The Kli Yakar writes: "The purpose of all of this was to distance them from Pharaoh, so that they would settle in the land of Goshen." This has a practical lesson for our days also, that we should seek to live in a place that is not subject to non-Jewish influence.
However, the Midrash (Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer ch. 26) has an additional, deeper understanding:
R. Tarfon says: That night [that Pharaoh took Sara] was Pesach eve, and G-d brought upon Pharaoh and his house great plagues, to foreshadow that he is destined to smite the Egyptians with great plagues. R. Yehoshua b. Korcha says: Due to Pharaoh's great love, he wrote to her [Sara] all of his assets, whether silver or gold, whether slaves or real estate, and he wrote to her the land of Goshen as an estate, therefore Yisrael settled in the land of Goshen, because it belonged to Sara, our matriarch.
What emerges from the Midrash is that Israel settled in the Land of Goshen because this place belonged to Sara. What does this mean? The word "Goshen" means, 'went forward,' as in Vayigash, like the word "gesh hala," meaning establishing a relationship. Pharaoh gave Sara the land of Goshen as an estate, because he wanted to form a relationship with her though giving this to her, as the Midrash says: "On account of his love to her he wrote to her all of his assets." However, Sara did not succumb to Pharaoh's persuasion and remained faithful to Avraham Avinu. "The land of Goshen" became a symbol of distance from non-Jews. Sara planted in Am Yisrael the strength to guard themselves from mixing with the non-Jews, and this strength was in the place called the Land of Goshen. Therefore, Israel settled in the land of Goshen, because this place was a symbol of distancing from the nations and refusal to come close to them.
If we pay attention, our parsha is called Vayigash, based on the verse, "Vayigash elav Yehuda." The word Vayigash and the word 'Goshen" are from the same root, 'gash,' which means relationship, as it says, 'vayigash vayishak lo." Despite this, there this an opposite meaning. The Midrash interprets "Vayigash elav Yehuda" to mean 'coming forth to battle. (Yalkut Shimoni 247) This is the meaning of gesher (bridge), that it is between two sides, and each one observes his uniqueness. This is a relationship that does not join.
This is exactly the land of Goshen - a land that Am Yisrael connected with because it is the estate of Sara. However, this place has the quality of separation from the nations, as Sara kept her uniqueness and kept separate from Pharaoh. Therefore, this land, on the one hand, is the place of exile, and it has a connection to the subjugating land. On the other hand, it indicates a connection that does not negate the uniqueness of the sides, a connection that each party is separate to himself. Thus, the Divine Hashgacha ensured that Bnei Yisrael would sit in the land of Egypt in the place that is their estate so that they would not be subject to the Egyptian rules, as a ruler does not have control over place that is not in his jurisdiction.
This a lesson for all generations, as the Rambam writes: (Hil. Deot 6:1):
The nature of man is to be drawn in his thoughts and actions after his companions and friends, to act like the people of his nation. Therefore, a person has to join the righteous and to sit always in their presence so that he will learn from their actions. This is what Shlomo Hamelech said: "One who walks with the wise, will grow wise, but the companion of fools will be broken." (Mishlei 13:20) It further says, "Praiseworthy is the man who walked not in the counsel of the wicked ... But his desire is in the Torah of Hashem, andd in his Torah he meditates day and night."
קוד השיעור: 3633
(Translated by Rav Meir Orlian)