In this week’s parshah, we have the long-awaited, tearful reunion between Yaakov and Yosef. For Yaakov, this was the crowning moment of his life that his beloved son was still alive and his legacy was intact. But convincing Yaakov of this truth took some work.
One of the ways which the Shevatim used to convince Yaakov was that Yosef sent wagons to carry Yaakov and the rest of the family down to Egypt. “וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֲגָלוֹת אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם” “…And he (Yaakov) saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to carry him. And the spirit of their father, Yaakov was revived.” (Bereishis 46:27). Rashi explains that these wagons held a special significance to both Yaakov and Yosef. The last thing that they learned together before Yosef was sold was the laws of “עגלה ערופה”, the Beheading of the Calf. If a man is found dead in between two towns and no one recognizes where he is from, the Rabbanim in each town must bring a calf to the riverbank and break its’ neck. The word in Hebrew for wagon is “עגלה”, which shares the same root. Upon seeing the wagons, Yaakov made this connection and realized that only Yosef could have sent the wagons.
The Kli Yakar points out that this explanation is completely the opposite of what would be considered the simple explanation of the pasuk, which is always Rashi’s goal when explaining the pesukim. Therefore, he gives a different explanation for why Yosef sent the wagons. One of the main parts of the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim, Inviting Guests, is escorting them out when they are ready to leave. The Gemarah in Sotah (10a) says that when Avraham Avinu did Hachnasas Orchim, he focused on three things: food, drink, and escorting them out. Says the Kli Yakar, when Yaakov sent Yosef to his brothers right before he was sold, he must have walked him out and while they were walking he would have explained the halachos of escorting a guest to him. The connection between Rashi makes is because the source of the mitzvah of escorting comes from “עגלה ערופה”. In order to understand this connection, we must explain exactly what “עגלה ערופה” is.
If you find a dead body in between two towns, we suspect that this was a traveler who was denied hospitality in one of the towns. In order to figure out which town it was, we go and question each town if they recognize this man. If neither town recognizes him, then the Rabbanim in each town go to the riverbank and break a calf’s neck and declare that they are not responsible for this man’s death. But how come they are obligated for his death? The obligation of Hachnasas Orchim is only to invite a person into your house and this man died on the road? We see that part of the obligation of having a guest is to also escort them on their journey. This is what Rashi means when he makes the connection between the wagons and “עגלה ערופה”, the wagons were meant to escort Yaakov down to Egypt and the origin for the obligation to escort someone comes from “עגלה ערופה” which has the same root as the Hebrew word for wagon, “עגלה”.
The obligation to escort someone has a very important reason behind it. In those days, the roads were full of dangerous people, some of whom were willing to kill those whom they robbed. When you escorted someone to the edge of the city, any potential thieves and murderers would see that this person had someone who cared about them, and who would potentially come looking for them if they harmed them. They would therefore leave these people alone as they didn’t want anybody chasing after them.
This was the final proof for Yaakov that Yosef was the one who sent the wagons. Potentially, it could have been that the ruler of Egypt escorted the brothers out of the country from common sense. However, in that case there would be no need for wagons, after all, no one would attack anyone who was escorted by the king! Therefore, the wagons were there to make the connection to “עגלה ערופה” which would prove that whoever escorted them out was doing so since it was a mitzvah and not because of common sense, which meant that it must have been Yosef since he was the only person in Egypt who would do something for a mitzvah. After making this calculation, “וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם” “…and the spirit of their father, Yaakov, lived.” (Bereishis 46:27)
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