Va Yigash: The Wagons, the circle, the heifer and the soul Genesis 44:18-47:27

The essence of Parasha Vayigash is the importance of the neshama - the soul – both to the individual and to the nation.

The question arises why was it that Jacob did not believe that Joseph still lived when told to him by his sons, yet when he saw the wagons he did believe.

And told him, saying, Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt; And Jacob's heart fainted, for he believed them not: And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them; And when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him the spirit of Jacob their father revived: And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive (Genesis 45:26-28). In Hebrew the word ‘revived’ is literally ‘came back to life again’.

Before investigating this question let us first look at the Hebrew word for soul. As in the case for Eskimos where there are 6 words for snow, so the Kabala separates the soul into five words or elements, corresponding to the five worlds: נשמה neshamah is the connecting force between man and God. It sits in the mind and relates to the intellect and the awareness of God. נפש nephesh is related to natural instinct; it is conceived as the ‘bodily soul’ and is located in the physical body: the two together are the two primary elements of the soul in the human body and correspond to the Jungian concept of anima and animus. רוח ruach (literally "wind") is related to emotion and morality; חיה chaya (literally "life") is considered a part of God and יחידה yechidah (literally "singularity") is essentially one with God. Chaya and Yechidah are said to be external to the human body.

The neshamah is identified with the word breath, neshemah, and contains the same Hebrew root nun-shin-mem נשמ . The Gematrical value of נשמ is 390 and is the same as Heaven (Shemayim shin-mem-yod-mem שמים) and which identifies the link of the neshamah as a connecting force between Heaven and man. So we find in Genesis 2:7 "And the LORD God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (nephesh)." So we see the entry of breath (i.e. the neshemah) as an energy force from heaven to make man a living soul.

The same concept is seen in the term Prana in Sanskrit and Qi in Chinese philosophy which is the life force or energy commuting between heaven and earth such as identified in Yoga and Qi Gong, Tai Qi etc..

Back to the question why Jacob revived when he saw the wagons. Wagon is Hebrew is agala עגלה = ayin-gimmel-lamed-heh, and is derived from the word maagal מעגל meaning circle Joseph was the neshamah of the twelve brothers, so from the time that Joseph was sold into Egypt and was supposed dead, the neshamah had departed from Jacob and the circle of life had been broken. It was only when he saw the wagons=circle that he realised that the circle that had been broken was now complete. Hence we see the immediate change from the use of the name Jacob and Israel: the spirit of Jacob their father revived: And Israel said, (Genesis 45:28). All the time Jacob believed Joseph was dead and the circle of life was broken the term Jacob is used. When he sees the wagons and realises that Joseph is alive then his life and his seed is complete to fulfil the purpose of God then the term Israel is used again. A more complete discussion of the frequent change of name between Jacob and Israel is discussed in section ??.

The essence of the story is that Man (Adam) only came to life with the infusion of the neshamah (Genesis 2:7). He cannot live, and is not alive, without the neshamah, and without the neshamah he is no more than flesh and bones. (See hyperlink the mist, Adam and the two trees)

Joseph was effectively the neshamah of the 12 twelve brothers. This can be seen in his two children Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim was the nephesh of the two and was more ‘dynamic’ and closer to earthly matters. It was for this reason that Jacob (Israel) in his blessing of the two sons placed preference to Ephraim over Manasseh (Genesis 48:14) because he foresaw the need for earthly action during the coming generations. Manasseh was the neshamah of the two brothers and main link between the tribes of Israel and God. The name Manasseh Hebrew:מנשה is an anagram of neshamah נשמה – it is also the anagram of Mishnah משנה – a systematic analysis of Jewish halackhic laws.

We see the significance of this in Numbers 32 where the tribes of Gad and Reuben asked Moses that they remain on the east side of the Jordan River where the pastures were good for their herds. Moses agreed, but also sent half the tribe of Manasseh with them.

And Moses gave to them, to the sons of Gad, and to the sons of Reuben, and to half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with its cities in the borders, even the cities of the country around: (Numbers 32:33)

No reason whatsoever is given in the Torah for this division of the tribe of Manasseh to accompany Gad and Reuben so that half of the tribe of Manasseh was inhabited the east side of the Jordan River and half on the west with the other 10 tribes of Israel. The tribe of Manasseh was the neshamah of Israel; it was the connector between the tribes and God. Should the tribes of Gad and Reuben be separated from the other tribes without the neshamah they would slowly dissolve into the tribal communities of the region. The splitting of the tribe of Manasseh effectively created a bridge of the neshamah of Israel across the east side and the west sides of the river Jordan and ensuring that the tribes of Gad and Reuben would be linked to God. Not only is man not able to live without the neshamah but also a nation cannot live without the neshamah.

Back to the story of the Wagon: Wagon, Agala, יגלה has the same root as egel עגל meaning calf and the same spelling as egla עגלה meaning heifer. How does this relate to the understanding of the reason Jacob revived when he saw the agala (wagon)?

The ‘heifer’ is a symbol of purity. It is female, unwrought and has not born a yoke. Deuteronomy 21:1-9 refers to a case where, should a man be found slain in a field and no one knows who committed the act then the elders of the nearest town should be found and the priests shall take a heifer (egla), that has not been wrought, born a yoke, or performed any kind of labour and take it to a valley that is rough and not sown (i.e. pure) and its neck shall be broken and the neck severed.

What is the meaning of this act? The neck connects the body to the mind. The mind is the seat of the neshamah. The man who was found slain in the field was a result of an act of violence and sudden death in which his neshamah had not been released from his body. By taking the heifer (egla) and by breaking and severing the neck of the egla allows the release and separation of the neshamah from the nephesh-the bodily soul so that it can return to Heaven from whence it came. Otherwise the neshamah would to continue to circulate the area where the body died in a form often termed as a ghost or poltergeist. Similarly the nephesh returns from whence it came (for dust you are, and to dust shall you return (Genesis 3:19)).

Why is the neck broken? The Hebrew word for neck is oref ערף= 70+200+80 = 350. 350 is half the value 700 which is the spiritual seventh day when Heaven and Earth are joined – i.e. the Shabbat Bride. By breaking the neck that link between heaven and Earth is severed and the neshamah is free to rise back to heaven.

It is for this reason the children of Israel are so often referred to 7 times in the Bible as ‘a stiffed necked nation’ עם ערף קשה meaning that their nefesh (bodily soul) is separated from their neshamah (heavenly soul) resulting in their rather wilful ways and disobedience towards God.

Lessons Learnt

So what do we learn from this parasha? The neshamah is the force that links man to God. This force is the breath (neshemah) of life which pervades through our body every second of our existence. Without it we are no more that a piece of clay moulded by the multiple forces applied to it. Man cannot live without the neshamah, neither can a nation live without a neshamah – as in the case of the tribes of Gad and Reuben. The neshamah linking man and God (Heaven) needs to be renewed on a daily basis, without it man will only be man in form but not mind. Upon death the neshamah returns to Heaven – from whence it came, and the nephesh return to the Earth from whence it came.



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