Rashi on Vayikra 18:3 says (as understood by the Mizrachi) that the most immoral part of Mitzrayim was Goshen, where the Jews had settled — indeed, according to B'reshis 45:10, Yosef chose it as his family's settlement.

Was it the most immoral area before the Jews were there, and, if so, why did Yosef choose it? (Yes, it was known for its pastureland, but surely moral concerns should have overridden that!)

Or did it become the most immoral area when the Jews were there, and, if so, how do we understand that?

(I'm using the term Jews loosely throughout to refer to Yaakov's family.)

  • See the Ramban 45:10 which seems to imply Yosef davka chose Goshen because he knew his father Yaakov wouldn't want to be in the heart of mitzrayim.Meaning it was pure when they got there and then only later it became bad.
    – sam
    May 8, 2012 at 6:03
  • @sam, he says Yaakov wouldn't want to be in the capital. I don't see that he comments on morality levels.
    – msh210
    May 8, 2012 at 6:19
  • 1
    I am speculating, the reason is he didn't want his children to get affected by the culture of the government,you may disagree.
    – sam
    May 8, 2012 at 6:22

2 Answers 2


The source for Rashi is the Sifra - Toras Kohanim which states:

מנין שלא היתה אומה באומות שהתעיבו מעשיהם יותר מן המצריים ת״ל כמעשה ארץ מצרים לא תעשו. מנין לדור אחרון שהתעיבו מעשיהם יותר מכולם ת״ל כמעשה ארץ מצרים לא תעשו. מנין למקום שישבו בו ישראל שהתעיבו מעשיהם יותר מכולם ת״ל אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו . ומנין שישיבתם של ישראל גרמה להם לכל המעשים הללו ת״ל אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו.

Loosely translated:

From where do we see that there was no nation as morally corrupt as the Egyptians? The verse (Leviticus 18:3) teaches, "According to the ways of the land of Egypt... you shall not do." From where do we see that the last generation was more corrupt than all of them? "According to the ways of the land of Egypt... you shall not do." From where do we know that the place where the Jews settled was more corrupt than all of them? ""That you dwelled in, you shall not do." And from where do we know that the settling of the Jews caused them to engage in all these acts? "That you dwelled in do not do."

This would appear to indicate that Goshen only became the most immoral location in Egypt after the Jews settled there, and that it became progressively worse while they were there, so that they sunk to their lowest depths during the last generation before the Exodus. The Sifra concludes (although the Malbim understands the conclusion differently) that it was the presence of the Jews that caused this moral descent. The Rash M'Shantz and Raavad both write that the reason for this is that the sin of enslaving the Jews caused them to sink progressively lower - for עבירה גוררת עבירה - one sin brings another. (It may be worth mentioning that slavery has often been noted for having a deeply unhealthy effect on the morality of the slave-owners.)

The הגהות מהרי"ד adds (along the lines of Yehuda's answer) that there is a natural reaction of impurity against holiness, so that when the Jewish people dwelt in Goshen, the higher level of holiness caused a parallel increase in impurity in the surrounding society. (Personally, I am not terribly satisfied with this approach for several reasons. On a peshat level, my main criticism is that, according to this approach, as the Jewish people fell under the influence of the surrounding society (as many sources indicate), this should have caused the rise in immorality to abate, yet the midrash indicates that the last generation was the worst of all!)

  • +1, many thanks. If the Malbim's understanding is relevant to my question, then could you include it also? (I can't see it without downloading the entire hebrewbooks volume, as the site's pageviews aren't working for me of late.)
    – msh210
    Dec 17, 2012 at 4:34
  • 1
    @msh210 The Malbim understands the conclusion to mean that the fact that the Jews dwelt in Egypt is what caused them - i.e. the Jews - to later succumb to these temptations. However, the Malbim does not explain why this area became the most immoral region in Egypt. (Btw, the Chofetz Chaim, in his commentary on Toras Kohanim, follows the Raavad.)
    – LazerA
    Dec 17, 2012 at 19:46
  • Regarding your final paragraph, perhaps you could answer that a spark of holiness inherent in the core of the Jewish soul continues to attract this specter of impurity even when a Jew sinks deep into the mire of sin.
    – Fred
    May 1, 2015 at 18:41

One possible thought could be that God made the powers of Good and Evil one against each other. Rav Chaim Kaufman ZT"L (Gateshead) says that on the day that Esau came home and ate the lentils, the Medrash says he had just killed the evil Nimrod. Why is it on that same day that Avraham Avinu died as well. He explained that whenever a certain amount of Kedusha enters the world God created an equal amount of tumah in to counter it to keep the world stable. Therefor after the one died, the world would have been unstable had the other not died as well.

Rashi in Parshas Kedoshim says the wherever you find Kedusha there you will find Ervah and need appropiate fences against it. Perhaps therefore after the Yidden populated Goshen and introduced so much Tehara, God created Erva alongside it as part the natural balancing process and to keep to wherever you find Kedusha there you will find Ervah.

  • My understanding of that concept is not that HaShem created 'Ervah there (and is it 'Ervah, or Tumah? I thought it was Tumah, but anyway...), but that 'Ervah/Tumah is naturally attracted to Taharah/Kedushah, so the holier the place is, the more the 'Ervah/Tumah wants to penetrate and the more one needs to be vigilant. Same thing with the Satan. When someone has trouble concentrating during Davening, they say that it's because he has really powerful Tefilloth, and so the Satan wants to distract him and works harder on him. +1, though, btw.
    – Seth J
    Sep 13, 2012 at 13:49
  • @sethJ (Rashi says the word Ervah not Tumah). I think it is a bit of both. The Rashi would seem to be more natural and the first vort would seem to be a Hanhagah of Hashem!
    – Yehuda
    Sep 13, 2012 at 14:19
  • The הגהות מהרי"ד appears to follow this approach. (However, as I have written in my answer, I am not happy with it.)
    – LazerA
    Dec 16, 2012 at 18:00

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