The first half of the parasha is the exciting part, with the confrontation between Joseph and Judah and the reunion with Jacob. But I’m going to deal with the boring second half, all about moving to Egypt. The Torah spends a lot of time describing how Joseph introduces his brothers to Pharaoh:
We are told what Joseph planned on saying, what he planned for his brothers to say, what he actually said and what they actually said. Why all the verbiage?
But first, what is ארץ גשן? It sounds like the name of a region, but it’s actually descriptive:
The actual name of the place they settle is given later:
So ארץ גשן goes with all the discussion of רעי צאן and אנשי מקנה. Why do we care?
Hold that thought. I want to look at another “unnecessary” paragraph later in the parasha. בני ישראל settle in Egypt over the course of two psukim:
But there’s 14 psukim in between of Joseph’s economic and and political maneuvering:
Rav Kaminetsky explains that the text includes all this detail to explain Joseph’s plan for his family:
Joseph is planning for his family’s survival (long-term planning is how he got this job in the first place!). He realizes they will be living in Egypt for a long time, and wants them to be citizens on an equal basis with the others, not as refugees begging for help, and not as foreigners imposing themselves on the natives. He also wants to ensure the continuation of Israel’s mission, by creating the idea of a protected religious class that will transfer over to the priests of the Hebrews.
So what does this have to do with our text? I would take the approach of the Malbim, that this reflected Joseph’s planning:
Joseph is trying to accomplish two contradictory things: he wants to keep his family from assimilating into Egyptian society, by keeping them isolated in Goshen and making sure that everyone knows they are shepards, who are תועבת מצרים. But he doesn’t want them to be refugees asking for pity from Pharaoh, but as invited guests. So when he actually talks to Pharoah, he doesn’t directly ask for Goshen, and doesn’t explicitly say they are רעי צאן. He says they own sheep and cattle, and they are now staying in Goshen. He is trying to manipulate Pharoah into making the right choice: he will offer them the land of Goshen himself:
Joseph is again planning for the long-term survival of בני ישראל in Egypt.
But the brothers' answer is completely wrong:
They don’t want to settle in Egypt; as we say in the Haggadah, they only intended to stay for the duration of the famine:
You might say this reflects the dialectic of the Jewish approach to galut: are we citizens of the countries we live in, or are we always planning to return to ארץ ישראל? (The answer, of course, is “yes”.) But in this case the brothers aren’t really planning on returning; they are not planning at all.
The truth is that בני ישראל were going to be in Egypt for a long time.
Jacob knew the truth since ה׳ told him:
Joseph knew the truth since he had been there:
The brothers may have honestly anticipating returning immediately after the famine. But the good life in the upper echelons of Egyptian society sucked them in, and they remained for another 210 years:
וַיֵּאָחֲזוּ בָהּ, they “were held by the land”, because וַיִּפְרוּ, like Joseph’s הפרני אלקים; they did not prepare for the reality of the seduction of Egyptian life, and were trapped.
Joseph and Jacob knew they were living in Egypt. The brothers were not living in Egypt; unfortunately, they were living in denial [mic drop].