June 25, 2024
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Going Up to, and From, Goshen

“And [Yosef] went up to greet his father, to Goshen” (Bereishis 46:32). It would seem obvious that when traveling from the Egyptian capital (where Yosef and Pharaoh were based) one must go “up.” Yet, when Yosef tells his family that he will go tell Pharaoh that they have arrived, he says he will “go up” (46:31) to tell him. [Reminds me of when older generations are quoted telling younger generations how difficult it was for them to get to school—they had to walk uphill—both ways!] Which one was it? Did Yosef go “up” when he went from the capital to Goshen, or did he go “up” when he returned from Goshen to the capital?

Reasons given for Yosef having to go “up” when going to Goshen include Goshen being on higher ground than the rest of Egypt (Daas Zekaynim, Rabboseinu Baalei HaTosfos and Tur [HaAruch]) and that it was an uplifting experience for Yosef to greet his father and honor him (Daas Zekaynim and Rabboseinu Baalei HaTosfos).

Goshen is also mentioned in Yehuda’s portion of Eretz Yisroel (Yehoshua 15:51). Radak (on 11:16) says this is not the same Goshen as the one in Egypt, but adds that there is a Midrash that says it is the same Goshen, with Yehuda meriting to have it included in his portion because he fulfilled his father’s wishes and prepared Goshen for his arrival (Bereishis 46:28). Tur seems to be referencing this Midrash when he quotes others saying that Yosef had to go “up” when he went to Goshen because it’s in Eretz Yisroel, which is higher than all other lands.

Although it’s generally accepted that Yehuda’s Goshen is not the one the Children of Israel lived in when they were in Egypt, considering it part of Eretz Yisroel fits with another non-consensus opinion, that “Nachal Mitzrayim,” which is the southwestern border of Eretz Yisroel, is the Nile (see Rashi on Bamidbar 34:3 and Radak on Yehoshua 13:3); after all, the Egyptian Goshen is east of the easternmost branch of the Nile Delta (and therefore on the Eretz Yisroel side of the border). [As I have previously discussed, the general consensus is that “Nachal Mitzrayim” is Wadi el-Arish, in the northern Sinai Peninsula.]

Daas Zekaynim and Rabboseinu Baalei HaTosfos also seem to say that the Egyptian Goshen was on higher ground because it was in Eretz Yisroel. However, based on Hadar Zekaynim, this is likely a typo. Rather than saying Goshen was “בגבו לארץ ישראל,” they are saying it was “בגבול ארץ ישראל” (with the “ל” of “לארץ” really being the last letter of the previous word). In other words, since Goshen was next to (at the border of) Eretz Yisroel, and Eretz Yisroel is higher than everywhere else, Goshen was higher than the rest of Egypt. There is no doubt that they agree it eventually became part of Eretz Yisroel (as they reference Yehoshua 15:51), but that didn’t happen until later; when Yosef went “up” to Goshen, it was still part of Egypt.

These Tosafists reference another Midrash (Pirkay d’Rebbi Eliezer 26), where Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha says that Pharaoh gave Goshen to Sara as part of her dowry when he wanted to marry her (and told Avraham she can keep it after he found out she was his wife), which is why the Children of Israel chose to live there. Since Yosef had to get Pharaoh’s approval before Yaakov and his sons could live there, it must not have really belonged to them yet. [With the general consensus being that the Egyptian Goshen is not Yehuda’s Goshen, my guess is that when the latter was conquered it was named Goshen to harken back to the area in Egypt where they had lived.]

In order to explain why Yosef also had to go “up” when he returned, Radak says it refers to Yosef climbing back onto his chariot. Daas Zekaynim, Rabboseinu BaaleiHaTosfos, Hadar Zekaynim and Tur add that Yosef had come down off his chariot to honor his father. Tur suggests two additional possibilities: the palace was on higher ground than the surrounding area, or the rest of Egypt was on higher ground than Goshen. (If the latter, Tur suggests that when Yosef went “up” to Goshen, it refers to him getting on his chariot without any help when he went to see his father.) Netziv says that Yosef had planned to speak to Pharaoh privately, which could only be done on an upper story of the palace.

There is a blatant difference between Yosef going “up” to Goshen and his saying he would go “up” to Pharaoh: the Torah itself says Yosef went “up” to see his father, while it was Yosef who said “I will go up” to speak to Pharaoh. Perhaps it’s not a geographical “up and down” being referred to; the Torah says Yosef went “up” to Yaakov because not only was Yaakov his father, but he was also on a higher spiritual level. When Yosef said he would “go up” to Pharaoh, he may have been telling his family that he doesn’t have the final authority to authorize their moving to Goshen; only Pharaoh can do that (i.e. Pharaoh is above me). [When Yosef did go to Pharaoh, the Torah doesn’t say he “went up,” just that he went (47:1).] But there’s another possibility.

The capital of ancient Egypt wasn’t always the same city. What was constant was the southern part being known as “Upper Egypt” while the northern part was referred to as “Lower Egypt.” (The Nile flows from south to north, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea at the Nile Delta, so “upstream” is south and “downstream” is north.) Goshen was located in the eastern Nile Delta (although not necessarily all the way to the Mediterranean)—and the Nile Delta is the northernmost part of Egypt. Therefore, Egypt’s capital was usually south of Goshen. I am not ruling out the possibility that when Yosef was the viceroy, the capital was in the northern part of the Nile Delta—and if it was, it fits with Yosef saying that his father and brothers would be close to him (45:10)—but if the capital was south of Goshen, then the Torah would describe going north—and getting closer to Eretz Yisroel—as “going up,” while those living in Egypt would describe going south as “going up.”


Rabbi Dov Kramer isn’t always sure what to answer when asked “what’s up?” Nor is he sure whether he should be “up” for something or “down” for it. You can hit him up by emailing RabbiDMK at gmail dot com.

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