Michal Kohane

Joseph’s ‘Conception’ and Yehuda’s Tikkun

During the days of the Agranat Committee — the investigative committee established to investigate the circumstances of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War — the concept of “Conception” was created, which referred to the concept formulated by the IDF Intelligence Division regarding threshold conditions for the Egyptians and Syrians to go to war. Instead of seeing the brutal facts on the ground and calling them for what they were, a theory was built, according to which the Egyptians and Syrians are “not sufficiently prepared” (in our opinion) for war… The contradiction between the intelligence information that indicated preparations for war and the “Conception” that claimed that Syria and Egypt do not meet the “conditions” we set for them for war – grew and grew. Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story.

The “Conception” has returned to us since October 7, 2023: “They are training,” we said. “They are deterred,” we announced. “Routine”. “Everything is fine”. We were not ready to look the brutal facts in the eye and call things by their name.

Today it sounds crazy. How could anyone be so blind? And especially someone who knows life in the Middle East and the capabilities of our enemies in this area, for generations (that is, us)? But that’s how it is. In retrospect, it’s so easy to see a black swan… a black swan?? Until the 17th century it was clear that a swan is a big white fowl, but then black swans were discovered in Australia. After the initial shock the definition was updated, and since then it has become “obvious”, as if we always knew… I mean, in hindsight, our eyesight is 20-20…

“Conception” – being held by a certain worldview that includes partial blindness to reality, is not a new thing, politically or personally. It’s quite possible that each of us is held to one degree or another in certain conceptions regarding parts of our lives that are difficult for us to deal with, and we prefer not to fully see what is happening, because clearly seeing will require a certain action that, at the moment, for various reasons, we are unable to do. Instead, we believe the illusion and internal explanation we give ourselves. In our Torah portion it turns out that maybe Yosef was also held by his own conception…

The Torah portion of Vayigash is one of the most moving Torah portions. It opens at the moment of the meeting between the brothers, Joseph and Yehuda: one, in Egyptian royal dress, shiny, formal, decorated, proud of the high status he has reached, speaks with the confidence of knowledge and authority. The second – a shepherd, probably dressed in rags, perhaps barefoot, a stick in his hand, his head bowed, humbled, contemplating where we went wrong, speaking of his sins.

But beyond clothes and style, each of them represents a completely different attitude within the People of Israel. Joseph dreamed of a kingdom, of sheaves bowing down to him, of the sun, the moon and the stars, the whole world. Yehuda — thinks in terms of a flock, of concern for those who are here and now. He speaks in terms of family and accountability and mutual responsibility. Yosef wants a universal Judaism. Yehuda wants “that the Torah will come out of Zion”…

Now they are facing each other. Which way is it?

After Joseph invites the brothers to bring their father and stay with him in Egypt, we learn about how he manages the severe famine that afflicts not only Egypt but the entire region. Joseph as ruler second only to Pharaoh, takes a number of economic and social moves. First, he abolishes the currency in Egypt:

Now there was no bread in all the world, for the famine was very severe; both the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine.

Joseph gathered in all the money that was to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, as payment for the rations that were being procured, and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s palace (Genesis 47:13-14).

After that, he confiscates the lands and herds so that people no longer have private property, and also no personal freedom. All Egyptians become slaves to Pharaoh:

And when that year was ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, “We cannot hide from my lord that, with all the money and animal stocks consigned to my lord, nothing is left at my lord’s disposal save our persons and our farmland.

Let us not perish before your eyes, both we and our land. Take us and our land in exchange for bread, and we with our land will be serfs to Pharaoh; provide the seed, that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become a waste.” (ibid 18-19).

In the next step, Yosef relocates all the residents and moves them to the cities, which creates a familial, social and cultural transformation:

So Joseph gained possession of all the farm land of Egypt for Pharaoh, all the Egyptians having sold their fields because the famine was too much for them; thus the land passed over to Pharaoh. And he removed the population town by town, from one end of Egypt’s border to the other (ibid 20-21). 

In addition, according to the Sages, the Egyptians were told to be circumcised. This is because earlier (in Genesis 41:55) it said – And when all the land of Egypt felt the hunger, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread; and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do.”— Rashi says here, based on the Midrash, that Pharaoh told them that they should do whatever Yosef says, including – circumcision.

It seems that Joseph has a very organized plan: to save Egypt from famine, disaster and death, and with the help of this rescue, instill in the whole world the way of life of the sons of Jacob, under his leadership. This is not the grandiosity of a spoiled child, but a wish to continue the vision and blessing of our forefather Abraham, so that “all the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (ibid., 12:3). Yosef, like the small state of Israel that sends rescue and aid forces in international emergency situations everywhere in the world, whether it is for agriculture, engineering and development in Africa or India, an earthquake in Turkey and more, is doing everything he can for this, hoping for some credit, sympathy and spreading the “Light unto the Nations” of who we are.

But both today and then, our success in this method, is limited. We think that if we only do things for everyone, and become as universal as possible, and “everyone” will see how “nice” and “good” and “beneficial” we actually are, we will bring about Tikun Olam and acceptance of the People of Israel and the Torah of Israel. It’s very tempting. And it makes sense. But since Joseph’s time, it seems that it doesn’t work:

Only the land of the priests he did not take over, for the priests had an allotment from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment which Pharaoh had made to them; therefore they did not sell their land (ibid, 22).

And if we missed it, the Torah repeats it four verses later – again: only the land of the priests did not become Pharaoh’s (ibid, 26).

The land of the priests symbolizes the core of Egypt’s way of life, and despite everything he did for Egypt, Joseph was unable to touch it. Perhaps this was Yosef’ “Conception” – he who was sure that with all the economic advantages that came to Egypt from his wise, generous and good deeds, “Hamas is deterred”. But in the end, it is precisely from here that antagonism will rise against us, until we’ll reach a Pharaoh who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), and bring about exile, torture and slavery. But his intentions were so good!! indeed.

So what can we do against “Conception”? There must be someone dissimilar within the steering team, someone who thinks completely differently and can inform and illuminate on another way. Now we can return to Yehuda, and perhaps understand the encounter anew.


When the family ascends to Egypt, it is said – He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way before him… (ibid 46:28). Rashi says on the words “ahead of him”, (that Judah should be there) before his arrival; and the midrash adds on the words “ahead of him” – to fix a study hall, so from there, teaching (here same word as “point”) will come forth.

Meaning, it’s nice and good to help all our neighbors, especially if it helps us get through the years of famine, but please let us not forget the order of things: we cannot “repair the world” without remembering, learning and teaching, building and preserving first of all who we are. B’sorot Tovot & Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Currently a "toshevet chozeret" in Israel, Rabbanit Michal Kohane, trained chaplain and educator, is a graduate of Yeshivat Maharat and teacher of Torah and Talmud in Israel and abroad, and soon, official tour guide in the Land of Israel. She holds several degrees in Jewish / Israel studies as well as a PsyD in organizational psychology, and has been a leader and educator for decades. Michal’s first novel, Hachug ("Extracurricular") was published in Israel by Steimatzky, and her weekly, mostly Torah, blog can be found at
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