First, my apologies for the post-shabbat post. We spent the last week without computer access (yes, in the waning days of 2008!!!) and with various viruses (the real-life type that cause runny noses, stomach flu, and ear infections). So, the post for this past shabbat will be several ideas that I had for the parashah that I hope to use, G-d willing, next year.
Parashat Vayigash recalls Yosef's dramatic revelation of his true identity to his brothers after Yehudah gives an impassioned plea to release Binyamin from servitude. Yosef then lavishes gifts on his family and requests/suggests/demands(?) that the brothers return to Canaan, talk to Yaakov, pack up their households, and return with their father and families to Egypt so they can live out the harsh famine in a fertile land. This invitation is, of course, the beginning of the exile in Egypt, although G-d appears to Yaakov and promises him that G-d will not forsake Bnei Yisrael when they are in Egypt.
The episode in which Yaakov learns that Yosef is still alive captures my imagination. The midrashim offer a fascinating narrative for how Yaakov learns that his favorite child is alive and well and prospering in Egypt. The midrashim indicate a point later in the parashah, when the Torah delineates the seventy souls that descended to Egypt, to explain how Yaakov was intentionally prepared for the startling news of Yosef that his sons brought him. In the list of names one woman in mentioned, Serach, the daughter of Asher. To provide a rationale for singling her out, the midrash in Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer teaches that Serach was assigned by her uncles and father the task of preparing Yaakov for the big revelation. She was a singer and musician (harpist?) who sang and played for her aging grandfather. Embedded in the lyrics of her songs were the almost unintelligible words that Yosef was alive in Egypt, the father to two young boys. Serach's song was a rhyming triplet that she sang while Yaakov davened. Although Yaakov was focused on his tefillah, he subconsciously integrated the words of Serach's song into his thinking and was thus ultimately able to accept the report about Yosef as true--without dying. For her part in caring for and preparing her grandfather emotionally, Serach was rewarded with a long life that ended without death. More midrashim explain how she functioned at the times of Moshe and King David , and how she ultimately went to Gan Eden alive!
I am intrigued by this figure of Serach and her subliminal messages she sends to Yaakov. For Shabbat, I was thinking of ways to hide messages about Yosef in the decor a the table. I wanted to use items that might allude to Yosef's name (cups of coffee, or Joe, baby kangaroos, yo-yos, for example) to build a centerpiece. I also wanted to use fancy writing that could be obscured in curlicues and decorations to write, "Yosef is alive and living in Egypt."
On a different topic, my husband and I were talking about how we could impress on our kids the idea of seventy individuals who went to Egypt. We thought of using cards (such as index cards) to help them build a family tree for Yaakov with all the names mentioned in the parashah. We wanted them to also do the same activity with cards with our own family names listed on them, so they could get a sense of how much seventy is and how closely related the seventy souls were.
I hope to be back on track this week, bli neder, with the Parashat Vayechi post published on Wednesday night!!!!!!!!!!!