This week's Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of my friend, Aron Tzvi ben Moshe Aryeh. Y'hi Zichro Baruch.
In Parshas Vayigash, we observe the emotional reunion between Yosef and his family. After revealing his identity to his brothers, rendering them speechless, he encourages them to return as quickly as possible to Eretz Yisrael and bring his father down to Mitzrayim. The brothers knew that the shock of finding out that Yosef was alive could kill Yaakov, so they devised a plan to gently break the news. Yosef knew that his father might need a bit of convincing that his brothers were telling the truth, so he made his own arrangements too.
“וַיִּתֵּ֨ן לָהֶ֥ם יוֹסֵ֛ף עֲגָל֖וֹת עַל־פִּ֣י פַרְעֹ֑ה” “And Yosef gave them (the brothers) wagons by Paroh’s word”; “וַיָּ֣פָג לִבּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י לֹא־הֶֽאֱמִ֖ין לָהֶֽם” “but he (Yaakov) had a turn of heart, for he did not believe them (the brothers)”; “וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־הָ֣עֲגָל֔וֹת אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח יוֹסֵ֖ף לָשֵׂ֣את אֹת֑וֹ וַתְּחִ֕י ר֖וּחַ יַֽעֲקֹ֥ב אֲבִיהֶֽם” “And he (Yaakov) saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived” (Bereishis 45:21; 26-27). It is clear from Pesukim 26-27 that Yaakov didn’t believe Yosef was alive until he saw these wagons. Interestingly, in Pasuk 21, it says the wagons were sent by the command of Paroh, while in Pasuk 27 Yaakov identifies them as a sign from Yosef. What was the hidden message in these wagons?
Rashi explains that the last halachos Yaakov taught Yosef before he was sold were about Eglah Arufah, when you find an unidentified body in the wilderness, which city is responsible for it. Yosef convinced Paroh to send these wagons which hinted at a message to his father based on the similarity between the word “eglah” and the Hebrew word for wagon “agalah”. Yaakov made this connection right away and realized that it was indeed his son Yosef, still righteous after all these years, sending him these wagons. This is why the Torah changes from calling them the wagons that Paroh sent to the wagons that Yosef sent.
The Kli Yakar takes issue with this explanation of Rashi. Rashi is committed to explaining the pesukim with the most fundamental understanding; this is clearly not the case with this explanation. If Yosef only wanted to send a message, why does the pasuk say they were meant to carry Yaakov down to Mitzrayim? Why would Yosef have sent multiple wagons, couldn’t he have made his point with one? Therefore, he understands Rashi that Yaakov saw a different set of halachos hidden in the wagons.
The message was not the wagons themselves, but the fact that that Yosef had sent something to bring his father back down to Mitzrayim. While the halachos of eglah arufah may have been the final halachos they learned together formally, Chazal teach us the actual final lesson Yaakov gave Yosef was the mitzvah of providing an escort for someone. In fact, these halachos are actually part of the mitzvah of eglah arufah as well. We learn from the pasuk in Parshas Vayeishev (37:13) that Yaakov escorted Yosef part of the way when he sent him to check on the brothers. He must have taken this opportunity to give over this mitzvah to Yosef in the most practical way.
Yosef didn’t need to provide any mode of transportation for his family; they must have had plenty of their own resources to provide transport. He specifically provided these wagons as a way of showing his father that he still remembered what he had been taught. This proved to Yaakov that Yosef was alive, and furthermore, he was still holding in everything he had been taught 22 years prior. With this realization, “then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived!”
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