09. Jacob’s arrival in Egypt and his eventual death; Joseph’s death

Joseph was moved, he was pained to see his brothers fall at his feet. But maintaining his stern comportment, he had them put behind bars. However, when he listened in on their talks while they were in prison, Joseph was convinced that his brothers had changed. In fact, their talks revealed that they perceived the charges against them and their imprisonment as God’s justifiable punishment for the merciless treatment they had meted out to Joseph. This made it impossible for Joseph to hold back his tears.

After three days, Joseph released them from the prison. However, he detained ‘Shimon’, who, he warned, would be released only on condition that they return along with their brother, Benjamin, who had stayed back in Canaan.

Joseph’s brothers set off on their journey back home. The foodgrains they had bought, were loaded onto their cattle. But little did they know that Joseph had already secretly put back in their luggage, the money which they had spent to buy the grains. On reaching Canaan Joseph’s brothers narrated in detail, the whole incident to Jacob and showed him the stock of foodgrain they had brought along and lo! There was money falling out of each one’s luggage! They had no clue how the money had entered their luggage in the first place and were frightened for that could imply charges of theft. Jacob pacified them and suggested they return the money on their next visit.

Their food stock exhausted in a few months, Jacob advised them to revisit Egypt to buy some to replenish their stock. This time they had Benjamin with them so as to secure the release of Shimon as per the orders of the Pharaoh’s Vizier.

All of Joseph’s brothers reached Egypt. Learning of their arrival, Joseph sent one of his officers to fetch them. Joseph was overwhelmed yet again at the sight of his younger brother, Benjamin but collecting his emotions, he maintained his composure. Joseph’s brothers too on their part, felt relieved that their brother, Shimon was alive.

Egypt
Joseph receives Benjamin and other brothers

Joseph received them warmly and gave them the foodgrains they wanted. He decided to test his brothers, but in a different way this time. Like he had done last time, he slipped into their luggage, the money with which they had bought the grains. This time however, along with the money, he also had a silver cup from the palace planted in Benjamin’s luggage.

Delighted that they were all safe and sound, Joseph’s brothers started back for Canaan. But soon an army officer in pursuit, caught up with them and told them that a precious silver cup was missing from the palace and the Vizier suspected that it was they, who had stolen it. The brothers broke out in cold sweat. To make matters worse, the steward found the cup in Benjamin’s sack. They were dumbfounded. But as already tutored by Joseph, the steward said that he would be arresting only the person on whom the stolen cup was found and that the others were free to go. But Joseph’s brothers, who had now undergone a complete change, did not agree with it. They were determined to stay united. They were all in it together. It was either all of them or none of them, they declared and kept pleading with Vizier Joseph to have all of them arrested or set Benjamin free.

Joseph's cup found in Benjamin's sack
Joseph’s cup found in Benjamin’s sack

The change in his brothers was evident and convincing. Joseph’s heart was touched. His brothers had indeed changed for good, Unable to contain his sentiments any longer, he sent all the Egyptian staffers out and revealed his true identity to his brothers. When they learnt that the Vizier was none other than their brother Joseph, whom they had ill-treated, they were left quaking in their boots. But Joseph reassured them. Overjoyed with their reunion they all hugged each other, wept and thanked God. It was after many years that all the 12 brothers had food together.

Joseph inquired about their father and told his brothers to bring him to Egypt He assured them that he would put in a word with the Pharaoh, ensure that they had a source of livelihood and arrange for them to settle down. Presenting them with costly gifts, he bid farewell to them.

Delighted, all the brothers reached Canaan and narrated the whole story to their father. Jacob burst into tears of joy on learning that his beloved Joseph was alive. He could not wait to meet him.

In the meantime, Joseph had informed the Pharaoh about all this. The Pharaoh held Joseph in a very high regard and he too was happy on hearing that Joseph’s father and family were arriving in Egypt. He offered to give them a ceremonial welcome at his palace. He also offered them land in the most fertile part of his kingdom, near the Nile delta in the province of Goshen.

Joseph’s brothers migrated to Egypt along with their father, Jacob, their belongings and kindred Jacob did not, however, forget to offer his gratitude to God and went to the pilgrimage of Beersheba before they moved to Egypt. They received a respectful welcome in Egypt. Jacob’s joy knew no bounds as he embraced Joseph after so many years. The Pharaoh too treated Jacob like his own father and honoured him.

Joseph receives his father and brothers in Egypt
Joseph receives his father and brothers in Egypt

They all had now settled in the land that was offered to them. In fact after the end of the seven years of famine, the land yielded wondrous harvest. Slowly they grew rich and mixed with the local Egyptians. Jacob’s son Levi took upon himself, the responsibility of disseminating the knowledge gained from the ‘Abraham-Isaac-Jacob’ tradition to the Jewish community. Jacob was happy at the progress and achievements of his sons. Jacob had a special liking for the two sons of Joseph. In order that they attain all the knowledge, Joseph sent his two sons to stay with Jacob. Jacob later declared that they too would be heirs to his inheritance, as much as his own children were.

Jacob died a few years later. He had departed from this world with a feeling of contentment, a feeling of gratitude that he had lived a fulfilling life. Joseph being a favourite with the whole of Egypt, the passing away of his father was mourned by the whole nation.

Before dying, Jacob had wished that he be buried in the same Cave of Machpelah where their ancestors too were buried. Accordingly, a funeral procession was taken from Egypt to Canaan and Jacob was buried at the Cave of Machpelah with full honours. Jacob was 147 at the time of his death.

Joseph was now heir to the ‘Abraham-Isaac-Jacob’ tradition. Before departing, Jacob had taken promises from his sons that they would stay united at all costs and to not forget that they finally were to make it to the land of Canaan that was promised to them by God. The Pharaoh too passed away after a few years. It was Joseph, who had looked after the kingdom on the Pharaoh’s behalf during the lifetime of the Pharaoh and he continued to do so even after the former passed away. Till then everything was going well for these brothers. They had occupied some of the plum positions at the palace and also in the society. But their progress had now started to become an object of envy for the locals.

A few years later Joseph too left this world. Before dying he had expressed the wish to his brothers that when they leave Egypt for the ‘Promised Land’, they take his bones with them and bury them there, in their own land. Accordingly on his death his body was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. Joseph was 110 at the time of his death.

With this ended an era in the history of the Jews, the one that had begun with their first Patriarch, Abraham and had continued with Isaac-Jacob-Joseph. The Jews, in the effort and process of attaining the ‘Promised Land’ were now in Egypt. The Jewish community, scattered across various regions until then, started coming together as ‘One nation’. (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar