Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Va-Yigash 5764/ January 3, 2004

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il


Parashat Va-Yigash 5764/ January 3, 2004

"To Point the Way"

Dr. Abraham Gottlieb
Center for Basic Jewish Studies

In this week's portion we read, "He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way before him (le-horot lefanav) to Goshen. So when they came to the region of Goshen ..." (Gen. 46:28). According to the plain sense of the text, Jacob sent his trusted son Judah ahead of him to Egypt, to Joseph, so that the latter could show him the way to Goshen.[1] The purpose of the mission was to carry out Joseph's plan regarding his father and brothers, which he had already made known to them, as stated earlier, "You will dwell in the region of Goshen" (Gen. 45:10).
Indeed, all the classical exegetes understand it this way, including Rashi, except that he adds the midrashic commentary on the words "to point ... before him" (le-horot lefanav, which could also mean "to give instruction"): "to prepare him a House of Study, that Teaching emanate from there." This midrash comes from Genesis Rabbah (Vilna ed., 95.3): "To set up a meeting house for him, where he can teach Torah and the tribes can study."[2] The midrash also offers another interpretation: "To set up a house of dwelling for him."

Why did Rashi not confine himself to the plain sense of the text? Because the plain sense of our verse and the next one present a problem of order: "So they came to the region of Goshen. And Joseph ... went to Goshen to meet his father Israel" (46:28-29). This implies that, contrary to the beginning of verse 28, Joseph did not precede Judah to Goshen, but waited until after Jacob had arrived.[3] Only after Jacob had arrived, "Joseph ordered his chariot and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel." [Editor's note: For this reason, JPS renders the first verse in the past perfect: "He had sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph.... So when they came to the region of Goshen..."]
Presumably those exegetes who adhere to the peshat understood that "to point the way" could mean something other than physically going down to Goshen. In other words, Judah came to Joseph, and then Joseph instructed him how to get to Goshen. That is, he instructed him regarding the entire matter of their settling in Goshen and its objectives, before attaining Pharaoh's approval. Judah then returned to Jacob and came back down with him to Goshen; only then did Joseph come to meet them.

The Sages as well as Rashi perceived a fundamental value underlying the words le-horot lefanav; therefore they interpreted the phrase as referring to hora'a, instruction in the Torah, and not simply instruction as to the way. Rashi sensed that settling in Goshen was not simply for them to live there temporarily, but for the sons of Jacob to coalesce as a group prior to their becoming a people. Therefore Rashi cites the midrashic interpretation about setting up a Torah academy. The midrash teach a fundamental lesson, as noted by Ha-Shelah ha-Kadosh:[4]

"He had sent Judah ahead of him" to set up a house of study for him, so that Teaching emanate from there. We learn a moral from this: every act that a person does should first be seen it terms of preparing for something elevated; for example, someone who has the good fortune to build a house should first imagine to himself the room of the house in which he will close himself up for the purpose of Torah study, prayer, and meditation, then the room allotted as a scholars' meeting place, and then other matters of need to him. Thus, Jacob first sent [Judah] to prepare him a house of study.

In other words, in everything that a person does, one's intentions should be sincerely directed to heavenly purposes, seeing study of the Torah as the foundation of human life.

Genesis Rabbah (loc. sit.) continues to explain that indeed Jacob studied Torah with the tribes:

Know that it is so, for when Joseph departed from him, he knew at what chapter he had left, and he used to study it. When Joseph's brothers came to him and said, "'Joseph is still alive,' ... His heart went numb, for he did not believe them" (Gen. 45:26) - at that time he recalled at which chapter he [Joseph] had left him, and he said to himself: I know that Joseph left when we were studying the chapter of eglah arufah (Heb. "broken-necked heifer," cf. Deut. 21:1-9). He said to them, "If you know at which chapter he left me, I will believe you!" Joseph, as well, knew at which chapter he had left. So what did Joseph do? He gave them wagons, as it is said, "Joseph gave them wagons (Heb. agalot - sing. agalah - a play on the word eglah)" (Gen. 45:21). This teaches us that wherever Jacob dwelled, he studied Torah, just as his fathers had; although this was prior to the giving of the Torah, nevertheless, it is written of Abraham: "inasmuch as Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: My commandments, My laws, and My teachings" (Gen. 26:5).

Jacob followed in the ways of his fathers, and the midrash concludes that the main thrust of Jacob's teachings to his son Judah was spiritual - to study the Torah. Moreover, the plain meaning of le-horot lefanav in the sense of pointing the way to Goshen does not contradict the midrash. Rather, the physical and the spiritual can be combined so that from the physical one reaches the spiritual.

Judah, the representative of the brothers who was trusted by his father Jacob, in fact carried out his father's request, thereby fulfilling the commandment of respect for parents. Radak comments on Joshua 11:16, which mentions the land of Goshen:[5]

That is the Goshen of the land of Egypt, and it is included, as it were, in the cities of the land of Israel, as it is said, "[Joseph] went (va-ya'al) to Goshen to meet his father Israel," indicating that it was on a par (be'aliyah) with the land of Israel. It was on Judah's merit for fulfilling his father's mission, "pointing the way" [or, teaching], that he received the land of Goshen, which is a good land, as part of his portion.[6]

Thus Judah, the leader of the brothers, was sent by his father to Joseph so that the latter could instruct him in the way that ultimately would lead to fulfillment of G-d's words to the patriarchs - Israel becoming a people in a land not their own and later returning to the promised land, as in G-d's word to Jacob in the night visions which he had in this week's reading (Gen. 46:3-4):

I am G-d, the G-d of your father. Fear not to go down to Egypt, for I will make you there into a great nation. I Myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I Myself will also bring you back.

[1] Cf. Nahmanides on Gen. 4:15 (Ha-Keter Mikraot Gedolot, Gen., Part I, ed. Prof. Menahem Cohen, Ramat Gan 1997, p. 65. Radak, however, expresses doubt whether the instruction was that Joseph bring Judah with him to Goshen in person, or Joseph would only instruct Judah regarding the route and Judah would find the way and arrive there on his own, following these instructions (ibid., p. 157).
[2] This is the practical implementation of the words of Jose ben Joezer, as cited in Tractate Avot 1.4: "May your house be a house of gathering for scholars; follow in their footsteps and thirst for their words."
[3] Don Isaac Abarbanel (15-16th century, one of the last medieval exegetes) offers a unique interpretation in which he sees the two parts of the verse as describing two different interrelated events: Joseph already told his brothers to bring his father to Goshen. Once Jacob was in Goshen, Joseph himself needed to be told where his father was residing, so Judah "pointed out before him" where Jacob was to be found (see Abarbanel's commentary, p. 151). This explanation, however, does not match the text insofar as the immediate context implies that Joseph, not Judah, is the subject of "to point the way to Goshen".
[4] Rabbi Isaiah ben Abraham ha-Levi (1565?-1630), rabbi, kabbalist, communal leader and author of Shenei Luhot ha-Brit, in his work Musarei ha-Shelah, Jerusalem 1985, pp. 26-27.
[5] Ha-Keter Mikraot Gedolot, Joshua-Judges, p. 47.
[6] On Goshen being a good land for shepherds, see Judah Elizur and Judah Keel, Da'at Mikra Atlas, Jerusalem 1993, p. 94.