"And He Sent Yehuda Ahead... To Set Up Camp"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


PARASHAT VAYIGASH

SICHA OF HARAV AHARON LICHTENSTEIN SHLIT"A

"And He Sent Yehuda Ahead ... to Set Up Camp"

Summarized by Dov Karoll

Despite Ya'akov's joy upon hearing that Yosef was alive, he was nevertheless quite frightened to go down to Egypt. In fact, God Himself had to assuage Ya'akov's fears: "Do not be afraid to descend to Egypt" (46:3). Why was Ya'akov afraid? One possibility relates to the fact that mitzvot cannot be fulfilled in the same way when one is outside the land of Israel. There is an additional level of fulfillment when one is in Israel. According to the Midrash, in the time of the forefathers, the 613 mitzvot applied only in Israel. Thus, it was a major sacrifice for Ya'akov to leave Israel, and his fear is understandable.

Ya'akov's actions seem to hint at other sources of worry. As Ya'akov prepared to go down to Egypt, the Torah relates that "he sent Yehuda ahead toward Yosef, to set the way to Goshen" (46:28). What was Ya'akov trying to accomplish by sending Yehuda ahead? One could understand that he was going to set up camp, to prepare a physical residence. This is the first explanation cited by Rashi (s.v. Le-horot), based on the translation of Onkelos (and appearing also in the Midrash Rabba 95:3). However, why should Ya'akov have been worried about this - didn't Yosef promise that he would take care of their needs?

Because of this difficulty, it seems that Ya'akov may have had something else in mind in sending Yehuda ahead. There is another explanation cited by Rashi (s.v. Lefanav), quoting the second opinion of the above-mentioned Midrash Rabba. According to this view, Yehuda was sent ahead "to set up a beit va'ad, a house of study." Ya'akov wanted the spiritual foundations to be established before he arrived. He didn't want to start organizing Torah study upon his arrival; rather, he planned ahead to have the system prepared when he and his family arrived.

In this view, Ya'akov was worried about the spirituality of his descendants in Egypt. He knew that his grandchildren would be raised in a foreign society, one with a strong and attractive culture of its own. Therefore, he wanted to be certain that they would still maintain their separate identity. Yosef, however, might have been oblivious to this concern. After surviving twenty-two years completely immersed in Egyptian society, Yosef might not have realized how challenging that society was. Ya'akov feared that his descendants, who did not grow up in his own house and therefore did not have the spiritual strength of Yosef, might be overwhelmed by these difficulties.

There is another question which one can ask based on this verse: why did Ya'akov wish to live in Goshen? Was his wish to remain separated due only to a desire to avoid offending the Egyptians by his family's profession of shepherding? Or is it possible that he wanted his family to be separate for other reasons, and used the sheep as an excuse? It seems that Ya'akov, unlike Yosef, wanted to remain on the outskirts of the society. Ya'akov was worried about his descendants' ability to maintain their separate identity and their close connection with Hashem. He tried to safeguard these by keeping some distance from the society, and setting up his own system of education.

There was an additional element which Ya'akov had to consider in setting up an educational system in Egypt. On the one hand, he wanted, and needed, his grandchildren's religious education in Egypt to be a strong one. This education would have to pass on all the teachings which he had imparted to his children, thus maintaining the continuity. On the other hand, the religious experience of his descendants needed to be imperfect. Since they were outside of Israel, there needed to be sense something lacking in their development as a Torah community. There needed to be a longing and yearning for the ideal, for their return to Israel. Ya'akov had accepted the fact that they would be in exile, and that they needed to build a strong "exile- community." Nonetheless, it was crucial that they recognize the fact that they were in exile. Even the best "Diaspora community" must still be a community in exile, not one which feels comfortable and complacent, as if they have reached the religious ideal.

In the current exile, this experience has taken different forms at various stages. For the majority of the two thousand years of exile, the host nations did not allow the Jews to feel much comfort. When those Jews used to say, "Le-shana ha-ba'a bi-Yerushalayim ha-benuya," "May we merit to be in the rebuilt Yerushalayim at this time next year," they really meant it. They truly believed that the return to Israel would be qualitatively better than their existence in exile. Unfortunately, in Western societies, where the Jews are more accepted, this feeling is often lacking. Even when not fleeing persecution, we must sense that our religious life is not ideal. For example, in America today many observant Jews lose track of this feeling that they are in exile. They reach such levels of comfort that they feel totally "at home" in America, which leaves them little yearning for a better future in Israel. This is a very dangerous situation.

To summarize, Ya'akov sent Yehuda ahead to set up a house of study which was to provide a strong Jewish education for the children who would grow up in Egyptian society. It would give them both firm Torah values and a firm Jewish identity. It would also teach them that their community in Egypt was not the ideal one, and that they must yearn to return to rebuild a true Jewish community in Israel. The same principles should hold true for every community in the Diaspora. They need to develop a strong Torah community, but inculcate the recognition that the ideal Torah community can be built only in the land of Israel.

(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5757.)

 

 


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