In Parashat VaYigash, we see the reunification of Yosef and his brothers. In the aftermath of the meeting, Yosef sends his brothers back to Yaakov with many wares and goods. Along with the goods that Yaakov receives come the news of his son’s existence and success, convincing him to visit his son before his death. He does, however, question the validity of the journey, and wonders whether he should go down; yet Hashem assures him that the journey is a worthwhile venture, promising nationhood to his descendants. The journey as planned, though, seems to be a noble one. Why would Yaakov need to request permission to go to Mitzrayim to see Yosef? Wouldn’t God allow Yaakov to visit his long lost son unconditionally?
In his politically inspired memoir, Democracy in America, Alexis De Tocqueville warns the industrious, religious, and free citizens of the United States of an impending threat to their freedom. He says that this threat will not be like any other before it, as it will not use fear and harsh actions to promote tyranny, but rather seemingly kind actions. De Tocqueville predicts that there will at one time be a government whose purpose will be to service the people with goods and all the pleasures they desire without work or struggle. Naturally, the people will be attracted to this system, and soon will abolish and abandon all previous methods of obtaining the sought-after pleasures. Then, when the government becomes the only source of “happiness” in the nation, the people will become dependant and reliant upon the government, taking away the very freedom they held so dear. Without independence from the clutches of the government, the people are bound to be enslaved to it.
A similar idea is found in the Parashah, in both a physical and a spiritual sense. When Yaakov asks for the right to travel to Egypt, he does so in order to see if his descendants would be subject to the physical pleasures of the country. If they would, then both their literal freedom and their spiritual composure would be compromised, making the trip not only unworthy of his time, but dangerous to the nation as well. If the descendants of Yaakov will become stuck in the physical pleasures of Egypt, not only is their destiny to be slaves, but also to lose all faith in God. In response, Hashem reassures him that, although this process may occur, it is imperative that Yaakov travels to Egypt, as that step would be the catalyst for the formation of the Jewish people.