Kenneth Cohen

An Emotional Custom

Parshat Vayigash is one of the most emotional Parshiot in the Torah. It discusses the reunion between Yakov and Yosef, after being separated for twenty-two years.

Yakov was hesitant, at first, to leave Eretz Yisrael again. He knew that Egypt was a very decadent place, and was afraid of the negative influences there.

He needed Hashem’s assurance that he would not be stuck there, and that his descendants would come back to Israel in the future.

Yakov does receive these assurances from G-d. He tells Yakov that he will go down with him, and protect him.

He even tells Yakov that Yosef will place his hands on Yakov’s eyes. In essence, he was being told that Yosef would outlive him.

The Torah is making a subtle reference to the custom in Israel, that the offspring of the deceased place their hands on the eyes of their parent. They place sand on the eyes as well, and recite the verse that man is from the earth, and shall return to the earth.

This is meant to be an acceptance of the will of G-d, by taking a loved one from us.

In Yakov’s case, it was a reassuring promise that his Egyptian experience would be positive. And, indeed, the last seventeen years of his life, were the happiest years of his life.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at