Parashat Vayigash

How many of us have family stories that seem to get embellished each year? In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayigash, we read about Yaakov who does a reverse commute from Israel to Egypt. Yaakov, who was overly joyed at the news that Yosef was alive, decided to immediately go down to Egypt with the rest of his family to see Yosef. It was not easy to transport an entire family from Israel to Egypt, without the advent of cars or airplanes, but this did not stop Yaakov from reuniting with his beloved son. Parashat Vayigash features extensive lists of Yaakov’s children and grandchildren, ultimately declaring that a total of seventy people went down to Egypt. The numbers, however, don’t add up. A close count of every family member listed in this Parasha only brings us to the number sixty-six. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 94:9 tries to solve our Genesis math mystery by suggesting a number of biblical characters that could have been included in the count. The Midrash also asks: Who came up with this number of seventy? Was it Yaakov? God? Or another member of Yaakov’s family?

Whether or not we subscribe to the accuracy of the number seventy, this high number makes an important statement about the people of Israel. Bible scholar Nahum Sarna explains that the number seventy stresses the “comprehensive nature of the descent to Egypt.” Whether the number seventy is “on the books” or off the books, this number exists in the book of Torah to help us recognize the significance of this turning point in the history of the Jewish nation.  While Bnai Yisrael were initially moving further away from Israel, their enslavement would ultimately bring them one step closer to receiving God’s Torah and returning to the land that God had promised them.

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