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don't delay

Jacob’s example teaches us that we can’t worry about what may be. Rather, we have to focus on what is happening right now.

This week’s Torah portion is Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27). It is in the portion of Vayigash that the entire Jewish nation, then numbering 70 people, is brought down to live in Egypt. There was a famine in the Land of Israel and Jacob realized that if they were to survive they would have to move to where the food is: Egypt.

That being said, Jacob wasn’t too upset to move to Egypt. That’s because Jacob learns that not only is his long lost son Joseph alive, he was ruler of Egypt! After Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers who came down to Egypt to purchase food, Joseph told them that they should bring their father to Egypt and he would ensure their freedom and welfare. The brothers returned to the Land of Israel with the good news and Jacob quickly packed his bags.

However, the Torah tells us that during the journey to Egypt Jacob became exceedingly distressed and scared. The commentators are very bothered by this episode. Why was Jacob afraid? He should have been in a mood of rejoicing, not fear, as he made his way to see Joseph!

We are taught that Jacob’s fear on his way down to Egypt was because he knew that the Jewish people would one day be slaves in Egypt. He was now torn by emotions and by needs. On the one hand, upon learning that Joseph was alive he just had to see him. It’s no secret that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. So too, there simply was no food in the Land of Israel. Not traveling to Egypt might have been the kiss of death.

On the other hand, how could he go down to Egypt? He would essentially be delivering his children and grandchildren into suffering, torture, and affliction. And even more significant was Jacob’s fear that the Jewish people would lose their identity. He was worried that perhaps his children and grandchildren would assimilate into Egyptian society and forget that they were Jews. Indeed, assimilation into the greater society would be, and always has been, tragic for the Jewish people.

Jacob’s decision to proceed to Egypt teaches us an important lesson. He taught us that we can’t worry about what will be — we have to focus on what is happening right now. We have to deal with today’s issues, not the possible problems of tomorrow. It’s the highest level of “one day at a time” combined with trust in God in all that we do. Yes, MAYBE his children would become slaves. Yes, MAYBE his children would assimilate. But, alas, there is no food. Jacob realized that the existence of his family was at stake. He had to make the move. Jacob did what he had to do, and God took care of the rest. The Jewish people ultimately survived Egypt and emerged as a numerous and stronger nation.

This is the message I leave with you. We all have problems. We all have worries. But perhaps Jacob is telling us to take one day at a time and to make decisions based on the needs of today. Pray to God. Cast your burdens upon Him. As He was with Jacob throughout all the challenges he faced, He will be with you as well.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel