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Rabbi Clark on Parashat Vayigash

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Joseph has an odd way of saying bon voyage. After he revealed his identity to his brothers, he sent them back to the land of Canaan to fetch their father, Jacob, to come down to Egypt. Before they go, Joseph says to them, “Al tirgezu ba-derech,” sometimes translated as “Don’t be fretful on the way.”

The verb, tirgezu, includes the meaning of movement, such as “to tremble” or “to quiver.” When he wishes them stillness, it’s not clear whether Joseph thinks his brothers are inclined to tremble on their travels out of fear, excitement, anger or some other emotion. Each meaning is possible in this situation. Travel includes its fair share of risk, even more so in the biblical world. The last time Joseph travelled in search of his brothers, he was sold into slavery, for instance. Alternatively, perhaps the brothers are overeager to reunite their father with his most-favoured son.

More likely, Joseph warns his brothers not to tremble in anger against each other. There is more than enough blame to go around. The brothers had plotted against him, debating whether to kill him and ultimately deciding to sell him into slavery and cover up their crime. Each brother played his own role in formulating the scheme or acquiescing in it. In their guilt, each brother probably would like to blame another. We can imagine them trembling in anger against each other as they journey back to Canaan and their father.


We can imagine this scenario, in part, because we, too, sometimes tremble in anger at our travelling companions, whether we are visiting new places or journeying through life. We might like to blame them for the wrong turns we have made. Joseph’s words to his brothers remind us to be still. There is no point to this trembling.