By Rabbi Zev Leff
“… And he [Yaakov] saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.”
From this verse, it would seem that Yosef sent the wagons to Yaakov. The Midrash relates that Yosef used the wagons to remind Yaakov of the last topic they were learning when he left home that fateful day 22 years previously: eglah arufah — the calf that is beheaded by the elders of the city closest to where a murdered body is found without any clues pointing to the murderer. The word for calf (egel) is hinted to in wagon (agala).
But the Torah explicitly states that it was Pharaoh who commanded Yosef to send wagons to transport the family and that Yosef sent wagons “according to the word of Pharaoh.”
“And now I command you to do the following: Take for yourselves from the land of Egypt wagons for you and your wives and transport your father and come here. And do not be concerned about your possessions, for the best of the land of Egypt will be yours.” (Bereishit 45:19)
Pharaoh greatly desired that Yosef’s whole illustrious family come to live in Egypt, especially after witnessing the great benefit brought to the kingdom by Yosef.
Pharaoh sought to remove any barriers to Yaakov’s coming. He reasoned that Yaakov might be deterred by the difficulties of acclimating to a new culture and society, and therefore told Yosef to tell his father not to worry about bringing his wardrobe, furniture, or utensils from Israel. He would be furnished with the best Egypt had to offer so that he could blend comfortably into Egyptian society. Therefore Pharaoh instructed Yosef to send wagons for the people but not for their possessions.
Yosef, however, knew that if this plan were conveyed to Yaakov, he would never descend to Egypt. On the contrary, Yaakov would need assurances that every precaution was being taken to combat the possibility of assimilation. Thus, Yosef sent wagons “according to the word of Pharaoh,” not exactly according to the command of Pharaoh, but in accord with Pharaoh’s intention of enticing Yaakov to Egypt. Yosef added wagons for their possessions so that they could recreate the environment of Israel in Egypt and remain insulated from Egyptian society and culture. Thus, Yaakov’s family went down to Egypt with all “their livestock and all of their possessions which they acquired in the Land of Canaan …” (Bereishit 46:6).
When Yaakov saw the wagons that Pharaoh had sent and was informed of the extra wagons that Yosef added for their possessions, it revived his spirit. He recognized that Yosef understood the importance of guarding against possible assimilation and the need to remain insulated from Egyptian culture.
Before actually descending to Egypt, Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead to prepare the way. The Sages say that his function was to establish a yeshiva in Goshen. This yeshiva was not merely a place of Torah study; it was the means of transferring the holiness of Israel to Egyptian soil. Goshen was to become a spiritually sovereign region within the environs of Egypt. Areas adjacent to Israel conquered in war take on some of the spiritual status of Israel. Thus the king, Yehudah, was needed to conquer Goshen as a spiritual extension of the Land of Israel.
The Sages tell us that the study halls and shuls in exile are parts of Israel transplanted to foreign soil. It is in them and around them that we must build a temporary physical dwelling place that is spiritually rooted in the holiness and purity of Israel. As long as one is physically prevented from being in Israel, he must transplant Israel to foreign soil. In this way the Jew insulates himself from assimilating into the host society and culture.
May we strengthen our houses of prayer and study in the Diaspora lands, so that they can all be soon transplanted to their proper location in the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Zev Leff is the rabbi of Moshav Matisyahu, and a renowned author, lecturer, and educator. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau.