An Outstanding Encounter by Mr. Chanan Strassman

Since Yosef is instated as viceroy of a world power, Ya’akov has the opportunity to meet the king, Par’oh.  In Parashat Vayigash, the Torah relates that “VaYavei Yosef Et Ya'akov Aviv, VaYa’amideihu Lifnei Par’oh VaYevareich Ya'akov Et Par’oh,” Yosef brought Ya'akov, his father, and presented him to Par'oh, and Ya'akov blessed Par'oh” (Bereishit, 47:7).  While the word “VaYa’amideihu,” “and he presented him,” comes from the root of Amad (stand), the Pasuk is explained as Ya’akov Avinu being presented before the king. This explanation is appropriate, because a certain sense of etiquette is required when greeting royalty.  However, a literal translation of “VaYa’amideihu” would mean that Yosef physically “stood Yaakov before Par'oh.” Indeed, one could reasonably suggest that Ya'akov Avinu required some hands-on assistance at this stage of life.  In fact, the Ramban believes that Par'oh asked, “Kama Yemei Shnei Chayecha,” “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (Bereishit, 47:8), because he was so struck by Ya'akov’s advanced age.  Ya'akov Avinu responded that his life was not long but exceedingly difficult, causing him to be so weak (Ramban, Bereishit 47:9).  According to this understanding, “VaYa’amideihu” likely means simple standing, and not a presentation necessary because of ceremony.  Since Ya'akov’s physical stamina had so severely declined, Yosef literally had to stand him before Par'oh.

If Yaakov was indeed so frail, how was he able to leave on his own?  After their brief conversation, the Torah stated, “VaYevareich Ya’akov Et Par’oh VaYeitzei MiLifnei Par’oh,” And Ya'akov blessed Par'oh, and he left Par'oh’s presence” (Bereishit, 47:10).  Unlike Ya'akov’s grand entrance, in which he relied upon Yosef to stand, there is no mention of a dedicated son supporting an elderly parent at the meeting’s conclusion.  By then, Ya'akov ostensibly found a way to manage and depart on his own. At first the Torah portrayed Ya'akov as a man of advanced age and limited dexterity, yet he is seemingly independent in the end.  How could both be true?

The Ba’al HaTurim provides context to better comprehend this contrast in Ya'akov’s behavior. He explains that the word “VaYa’amideihu” appears only twice in Tanach, and lacks a “Yod” each time.  The Ba’al HaTurim proposes that the missing letter from the word “stood” reflects a specific deficiency in each individual. Ya'akov required assistance to stand because he lacked physical strength.  Later, in Parashat Pinechas, the Torah describes God’s command to inaugurate Yehoshua as Moshe’s successor. During the official ceremony, it says that “and he stood him” (Moshe Rabbeinu stood Yehoshua) before El’azar HaKohen as part of the official ceremony. (Bamidbar, 27:22)  There, the Ba’al HaTurim explains that Yehoshua needed support because he felt so embarrassed and afraid to stand before Moshe Rabbeinu as a leader. Yehoshua’s lack of confidence was the main obstacle that he needed to overcome.

  This comparison can help us better understand Ya’akov and Par’oh’s meeting.  Although Yehoshua was physically strong enough to stand independently, his lack of confidence necessitated Moshe’s encouragement.  On the other hand, Ya’akov Avinu’s “VaYa’amideihu” emphasizes a physical limitation, implying that he remained strong in other areas; for instance, he was always confident.   A prime example of Yaakov's assertiveness was his willingness to speak so freely to Par'oh. Furthermore, the Seforno observes that Ya'akov did not bow to Par'oh at any point during his visit.  A foreign guest refusing to show respect for the king by bowing down would presumably receive a harsh punishment under ordinary circumstances , yet we find that Ya'akov Avinu is unafraid to (literally) stand up for his belief in God.  While he may have lacked bodily strength, we find that Ya'akov’s strength of character remained intact.

Accordingly, Ya'akov’s exit plan becomes less mysterious.  While Ya'akov likely still required assistance in taking his leave, as the meeting with Par'oh did not resolve any mobility complications, he made such an impression on Par'oh that he left their encounter on his own terms.  At first glance, Par'oh saw an old man with a handicap, and all he could do was comment on Ya'akov’s appearance. But Ya'akov’s conduct then demonstrated the depth and strength of his character. The Torah’s final words on this episode are “Vayeitzei Milifnei Par'oh,” because Par'oh did not dismiss Ya'akov, rather Ya'akov excused himself.

Rashi maintains that Ya'akov offered Par'oh an interesting blessing on his way out, “Sheya’aleh Nilus Leraglav,” “that the Nile will rise to his feet.”  While one cannot ignore the economic significance of irrigation in a desert environment, perhaps there is an added layer of meaning to glean from Ya'akov’s words.  When we look at still waters, our own reflection appears on the surface. Yet, when we engage in a meaningful interaction, when the waters are disturbed, we allow ourselves to be touched by new depths and growth is possible.  May we all be Zocheh to have such outstanding encounters.

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