Israel settled in the land of Egypt

What made Goshen the place for the Israelites to be?

Professor Gerald Aranoff,

Judaism Prof. G. Aranoff
Prof. G. Aranoff

Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly

One of the most moving scenes in the Bible is the reconciliation between Joseph and Judah.  It starts with Judah appealing, most eloquently, to Joseph: “Then Judah went up to him and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant appeal to my lord, and do not be impatient with your servant, you who are the equal of Pharaoh” (Genesis 44:18). Judah’s speech arouses pity and sorrow. Judah, most generously, offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin.

The story ends with the passage: “Thus Israel settled in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen; they acquired holdings in it, and were fertile and increased greatly” (Genesis 47:27).

Now, peace, harmony and love reign between Joseph and Judah and among all Israelites. Egypt is strong and prosperous and rules the world. 

Yet, as Rashi says on Genesis 37:2 when Jacob returned from Laban's home to the land of his fathers: “Jacob sought to settle in serenity, then the vexation of Joseph befell him.” 

This is what happened again when Jacob settled in Goshen.

“R. Johanan said: Wherever [Scripture] writes וישב And he abode [or dwelt], it denotes trouble, Thus: “While Israel was staying [וישב] at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women” (Numbers 25:1). “Now Jacob was settled [וישב] in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). “And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.”(Ibid. 2) “Thus Israel settled [וישב] in the country of Egypt, in the region of Goshen…” Genesis 47:28). “And when the time approached for Israel to die” (Ibid. 29). “All the days of Solomon, Judah and Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba dwelt [וישב] in safety, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree” (1 Kings 5:5). “So the Lord raised up an adversary against Solomon, the Edomite Hadad, who was of the royal family of Edom” (1 Kings 11:14).” ​

Jacob agreed to settle in Egypt, in the land of Goshen. Jacob sent Judah ahead to Egypt, according to midrash, to establish a house of teaching in Goshen. The Hertz Chumash comments: “The first care of Jews whenever migrating to a new land---to provide for the religious teaching of their children.”

 Jacob sent Judah ahead to Goshen and then went directly to Goshen to meet Joseph, as stated:

 “He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way before him to Goshen. So when they came to the region of Goshen, Joseph ordered his chariot and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel; he presented himself to him and, embracing him around the neck, he wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:28-29).

Why Goshen?  The brothers give the reason that they are shepherds and have sheep that need pasturing, as stated:

“Pharaoh said to his brothers, ‘What is your occupation?’ They answered Pharaoh, ‘We your servants are shepherds, as were also our fathers. We have come,’ they told Pharaoh, ‘to sojourn in this land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks, the famine being severe in the land of Canaan. Pray, then, let your servants stay in the region of Goshen’” (Genesis 47:3-4).

With a famine throughout the world, the least concern is for pasture for the flocks!  People were facing death: “Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land…” (Genesis 47:19).

My theory is that in Goshen there was grass for pasturing sheep and cattle, even during a famine.  God’s providence and care were always to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the 12 sons.  The world knew this.

Goshen is where fruits ripen first.

 Genesis Rabbah 95:

“Consider the text, (Eccl. 9:14). 14There was a little city, with few men in it; and to it came a great king, who invested it and built mighty siege works against it. “There was a little city” etc. alludes to Egypt; “with few men in it” to the ten tribal ancestors. “and to it came a great king, who invested it” to Joseph. “and built mighty siege works against it” -this alludes to the three decrees which he enacted, viz. that no slave should enter therein, no man should enter with two asses, and that no man might enter without recording the names of his father and grandfather. “Present in the city was a poor wise man…” (Ibid. 15) alludes to Judah. “who might have saved it with his wisdom” -by proposing,

"Now therefore, let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord “Therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord instead of the boy, and let the boy go back with his brothers” (Genesis 44:33). “but nobody thought of that poor man” (Eccl. 9:15): Ye indeed would not remember him, but I will remember him; hence, “He had sent Judah ahead of him…” (Gen. 46:28). “As iron sharpens iron So a man sharpens the wit [face] of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17). This alludes to Judah and Joseph. “As face answers to face in water, So does one man’s heart to another” (Ibid. 19) -implies that the Shechinah, Divine Presence, attached itself peculiarly to him: hence, “He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way before him to Goshen” (Genesis 46:28)… The land where the fruits are swift [to ripen] and large in size.”

Goshen was the best of Egypt.  Pharaoh gave the Israelites the best of Egypt. We must be grateful for that, even though, after the deaths of all of Jacob’s sons, Pharaoh tried to kill the Israelites. 

Surely Jacob and his sons tried to make righteous and good all Egypt. Jacob tried to make righteous and good the wicked Laban, until, after 20 years, Laban tried to kill Jacob.  Moses tried to make the Egyptians righteous and good. Yet Pharaoh tried to kill Moses.  In the midrash the rosh yeshiva in Goshen was Levi, after him, Kahat, after him Amram, after him Aaron.  In the midrash, they taught Torah to the Israelites and to the world.

God redeemed and saved us from the slavery of Egypt.  We pray speedily for the day: “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, And the lion shall eat straw like the ox, And the serpent’s food shall be earth. In all My sacred mount Nothing evil or vile shall be done —said the Lord”  (Isaiah 65:25).