Parashat Va-Yigash
Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky
In Parashat Va-Yigash we read the following description of the conversation between Joseph’s brothers and their father Jacob.
“But when they recounted all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.” (Genesis 45:27)

According to this verse, Jacob had been in a state of mourning during the years when he thought that Joseph was dead, but upon hearing the news that he was still alive, “the spirit of their father Jacob revived.”

The Rambam, Moses Maimonides, in the seventh chapter of his introduction to his commentary on Pirkei Avot, addressed the issue of prophecy. What is prophecy? How does someone become a prophet? What affects prophecy? Below are some selections from that chapter, with the Rambam eventually integrating the renewed spirit of Jacob from this week’s parashah into the discussion. It is stated that the children of Israel, if they are not prophets, are the descendants of prophets. (Tosefta Pesahim 4:11) As you read the text below, think about how Maimonides’s understanding of prophecy can enrich our religious lives today and help us strive to be “the descendants of prophets.” The texts are from The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics, ed. Joseph I. Garfinkle, pp. 80, 82:

Know, then, that no prophet received the gift of prophecy, unless he possessed all the mental virtues and a great majority of the most important moral ones. So, the Rabbis said, “Prophecy rests only upon the wise, the brave, and the rich”. (Nedarim 38a)  By the word “wise”, they undoubtedly refer to all the mental perfections. By “rich”, they designate the moral perfection of contentment, for they call the contented man rich, their definition of the word “rich” being, “Who is rich? He who is  contented with his lot”, (Pirkei Avot 4:1) that is, one who is satisfied with what fortune brings him, and who does not grieve on account of things which he does not possess. Likewise, “brave” stands for a moral perfection; that is, one who is brave guides his faculties in accordance with intelligence and reason, as we have shown in Chapter V. The Rabbis say, “Who is brave? He who subdues his passions” (ibid.)…Grief and anxiety may also cause a cessation of prophecy, as in the case of the patriarch Jacob who, during the days when he mourned for Joseph, was deprived of the Holy Spirit, until he received the news that his son lived, whereupon Scripture says, “The spirit of Jacob, their father, revived”, which the Targum [the Aramaic translation of the Torah] renders, “And the spirit of prophecy descended upon their father, Jacob”. The sages, moreover, say, “The spirit of prophecy rests not upon the idle, nor upon the sad, but upon the joyous”. (Shabbat 30b)


Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky is the Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator at AJR.