Parashat Vayigash--Genesis 44:18-47:27
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Questions for Young Children
Most intriguing to the pre-school set is the idea that Joseph could hide in plain sight from his brothers. Try showing the children photos of their grandparents when they were younger and see if they can recognize them. It works best if a grandfather had a beard as a teen or a twenty-something and is now clean-shaven and bald in his fifties or sixties. Young children are fascinated with the idea that the Israelites were bearded and Egyptians were clean-shaven and wore wigs. The website has information and pictures.

• Do you think you could recognize your grandpa as he is now if you hadn’t seen him since he was a teenager?
• How does Yehudah try to protect his little brother, Benjamin? Do you protect your little brother or sister?  Does your older brother or sister protect you?
• How does Ya'akov feel about leaving Eretz Yisrael for Egypt? How would you feel if you had to leave your home?

Questions for Older Children
• Joseph reveals himself to his brothers when he says, “I am Joseph.” Besides being surprised, what fears do you think the brothers might have?
• Would you want to get back at your brothers if they had treated you the way Joseph’s brothers treated him?
• Why couldn’t the brothers talk until they had kissed and wept?
• How does Jacob feel about going to Egypt?   


Questions for Teens and Adults

• How does Yosef reframe the story of his brothers selling him to the Midianites? Why does he do that?

• Examine Ya'akov’s decision-making process before he travels to Egypt and the stages of his preparation and journey that B'reishit recounts. In light of all Ya'akov’s previous journeys, what might he be thinking and feeling?
• Why hesitate at all about going to Egypt?
• Where do Ya'akov and his family settle in Egypt and why?

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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods or activities to the parasha. 

Try an all-Egyptian menu if you want to underscore the movement of B’nei Yisrael from Eretz Yisrael to Mitzrayim (Egypt). Not all the foods can be made kosher because, as in Greek or Indian cooking, some Egyptian dishes mix yogurt and meat or chicken. Try the website: for a selection of recipes. When the Israelites were in the desert during the Exodus, they recalled Egyptian food with great fondness. See if you agree.


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When Yehudah (Judah) steps up and offers himself as a prisoner instead of Benyamin for the theft of the goblet, Yosef orders all the Egyptians to leave the room and reveals himself to his brothers. His reframing of his being sold into slavery is instructive and can anchor a discussion. The brothers are sent back to Eretz Yisrael laden with goods and food and told to bring their father to Egypt to wait out the famine. Ya’akov is overcome when he hears the news that Yosef is still alive. He begins his journey with sacrifices in Be’ersheva and is favored with another vision of God who encourages his journey. The narrative is interrupted with a list of all Ya’akov’s descendants.

Upon their arrival, the Pharaoh has an audience with Ya’akov and he and his family settle in Goshen. As the famine worsens, Yosef acquires the farmland in Pharaoh’s name and passes out seed to plant in exchange for a 20% tax in kind. The parasha notes in particular that Yosef ensures his family has enough bread.

Find the food connection…

 וַיְכַלְכֵּל יוֹסֵף אֶת-אָבִיו וְאֶת-אֶחָיו, וְאֵת כָּל-בֵּית אָבִיו--לֶחֶם, לְפִי הַטָּף

Joseph sustained his father, and his brothers, and his father’s household with bread, down to the little ones.
--Genesis 47:12

Hallah with seeds!

Food for Thought

There is no aroma than can compete with that of hallah baking. I remember that intoxicating scent from my grandmother’s kitchen and I like creating the same food memories for my grandchildren. This week’s recipe for hallah is one I developed when Gelpe’s Bakery in Minneapolis began making delectable whole wheat hallot. I tinkered with my formula to find the right balance of whole wheat to white flour and the recipe represents our family’s preference. If you use single source honey and vary the types of honey, the hallah will assume a different taste and aroma. Our family favorite is buckwheat honey—a strong flavor. Don’t forget to sprinkle poppy seeds and sesame seeds. In Hebrew as in English, the word zera for seed means both a plant seed and a human seed. In this parasha there is reference to Jacob’s progeny as well as to seeds that Joseph distributes for planting.

In Jewish tradition and in western tradition, breaking bread is the symbol of eating and sharing. We begin our meals with a blessing over bread (ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz) understanding that the blessing covers the entire meal.

--Genesis 47:12

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A Dash of Bread Artistry

I find it challenging to make braided hallot each week that look presentable, but there are overachievers in the Jewish baking world.  One of them is our local Minneapolis shaliah, Eilat, who relaxes by creating a hallah in a shape that's unique to the weekly parasha. I discovered that she's not alone.  There's a website featuring hallot each week in creative shapes that relate to the parasha.  If you have golden hands, try one of these.  If you just enjoy looking at someone else's artistic creations, see Julie Seltzer's magnificent hallah for Parashat Vayigash Try guessing beforehand what shape she chose.

A Dash of Hebrew
Most of us know that the Hebrew word for bread is lehem which probably derives from the Ugaritic language (Northwest Semitic language dating back to at least 15th century BCE). If you use this word in an Arabic speaking environment, you’re likely to receive meat, not bread. How did this Semitic root lamed-het-mem, l-h-m assume such different meanings? Maybe your Shabbat guests can create a midrash on the topic.

A Dash of Halakha
What makes hallah special in addition to braiding the bread? Hafrasha. If you are baking with children or grandchildren, you’ll notice how this b’rakha appeals to children. The procedure is to take a small amount of hallah from the dough (size of an olive, 1 oz.) and set it aside with the blessing….asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hafrish hallah min ha’isa-- You have commanded me to set aside the hallah.” Then the small piece is wrapped in foil and burned. This commandment reminds us that the hallah is a gift from God and that in Temple times the entire community helped to feed the kohanim. (See Numbers 15:18-20).  If you look on the packaging for commercial hallah or other kosher bread, you may see the phrase, "hallah is taken," which means the baker performed hafrasha.

A Dash of Rashi
You may wonder what an 11th century French rabbi can say that’s relevant to us today. For me, Rashi’s skill is finding the questions. We might not think to ask why Yehudah (Judah) steps up as the leader among the brothers. He’s the fourth son, not the eldest. He has sold Yosef into slavery and picked up a harlot on the side of the road.  This is a potential leader? Here’s Rashi’s response:

For your servant assumed responsibility for the boy (Genesis 44:32) Now if you ask why I [i.e. Yehudah] enter the fray more than my other brothers, [I will reply that] they are all [standing] from the outside [without commitment], while I have bound myself with a strong bond to be an outcast in both worlds. [From Gen. Rabbah 93:8]

That provokes a whole other set of questions—what are the two worlds? Why is Yehudah such an outcast? Do we ever feel like an outsider in the Jewish and secular world?

If that answer doesn’t satisfy your curiosity about Yehudah’s role, take the question and search backwards to the earlier sections about Yehudah and the role he plays and then think forwards to the role Yehudah’s descendants will have in the unfolding of Jewish History. And, if you look at the etymology of Yehudi (Jew), you’ll easily see the linguistic connection between our national identity as Yehudim and Yehudah. If you believe the Torah was a human product, then it’s a quick jump to the question, who redacted this section and what was their purpose in creating a hero of Yehudah? Or, you might argue that Yehudah’s moral failures in previous chapters should preclude him from being a hero. Or, perhaps you believe that Yehudah’s empathy and fearlessness as he faces Yosef are a product of his growth.

By the time you finish a discussion like this, Rashi might not recognize his material but I think he’d be happy that we 21st century Jews are still asking questions about the text.


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Whole Wheat Hallot

Pareve--makes 3 medium loaves

Ingredients                                                          rsz 11 vayigash wheat field copy copy

  • 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp. wheat germ
  • 1-1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 5 c. white bread flour
  • 1 pkg. dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ c. honey
  • 3/8 c. oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 c. very warm water
  • sesame seeds or poppy seeds
  • raisins or other dried fruit


  1. Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in ½ cup of warm water. Set aside.
  2. In a mixer bowl with a lightly greased dough hook, combine flours, wheat germ and salt.
  3. Slowly add liquid ingredients and mix on low speed.
  4. Add yeast mixture and continue mixing until the dough is soft and creates a ball on the dough hook.
  5. You may need to add more flour if the dough is too sticky.
  6. Cover dough with a damp cloth and let rise 1 hr. in a warm place (an oven pre-heated at the lowest temperature and turned off, will work well.)
  7. Punch down and let rest 10 min. longer.
  8. Form into braided loaves. As you form the braids, you can add raisins.
  9. Set aside an olive sized round of dough for hafrashah.
  10. Let rise again 1 hr. or until doubled in size.
  11. Brush tops of loaves with egg yolk thinned with water. For a shinier glaze, add some sugar to the egg wash.
  12. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
  13. Bake on greased cookie sheets @375 15-20 min.
  14. Hallah will sound hollow when tapped when it’s done.
  15. Cool on racks.
    Hallah freezes well and it can be reheated before dinner.

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