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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Vayigash 5767

This parasha begins with the dramatic confrontation between Judah and Joseph. Joseph in the end reveals his true identity to his dumbfounded brothers. He then tells them to bring their father Jacob down to Egypt so that they can live securely in the land of Goshen during the remaining years of famine. When the sons tell Jacob that Jospeh is alive he, at first does not believe them. We read:

Genesis 45:26, 27

They told him [Jacob] saying: 'Joseph is still alive. And he rules over the land of Egypt.' His [Jacob's] heart turned for he did not believe them. They told him all the words of Joseph which he had spoken to them. And he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him. And the spirit of Jacob was revived. (that is, he believed them)


All the words of Joseph: RASHI: He [Joseph] gave them a sign - the subject he was studying at the time that he left him [Jacob] - the section of 'eglah arufa' (the calf whose neck was broken) This is what is meant when it says "And he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent. For it does not say "that Pharaoh had sent."


The question Rashi is addressing is : Why did Jacob suddenly believe that Joseph was alive, when the Torah tells us the verse before that he didn't believe them. What happened between verses 26 and 27 that convinced Jacob that Jospeh was in fact alive?

Rash tells us that it was the special sign "coded" in the wagons, which in Hebrew are called "agalos" which is similar to the word "eglah" which means calf.

This is not a p'shat explanation, but rather a drash. This can be concluded for several reasons. First of all, the word "eglah" and the word "agalah" are two separate and different words. Second, the mitzvah of 'eglah arufa' was given at Mt. Sinai. The assumption that Jacob (and the Fathers) knew the Torah before it was given is based on a drash, as the Ramban explains. So we may want to continue to search for a p'shat answer to our question of why Jacob suddenly believed.

Several other commentaries also deal with this question.


The Rashbam explains that the fact that wagons were sent out of Egypt was proof enough that a Ruler sent them, since Egypt had a law that no wagons could leave the country without Pharaoh's consent. So once he saw the wagons, Jacob knew that Joseph was that ruler, because had always remembered his son's dreams (as it said after Joseph told his dream to his father "And his father kept the matter in mind" (above 37:11).

But this explanation assumes there was such a law in Egypt, but we do not find that the Torah ever mentions such a law .


If we look closely at the Toarh's words we can find a very reasonable explanation for Jacob's new belief. The verse says that Jacob saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him." The wagons were sent to bring Jacob down to Egypt. The Talmud tells us a basic psycholgical fact: A man will not about a matter the truth of which can easily be determined. Of course, no person will tell a lie about something that can easily be detected.

Now, if the sons were lying, and Jacob got in the wagons to go down to Egypt ( as the sons told him), then as soon as he got there he would discover that he had been lied to. Realizing this, Jacob, upon seeing the wagons sent to carry him to Egypt, immediately believed the report of his sons - that Joseph was alive. And his spirit was revived.


As Reshonim have said, any question that arises from the Torah's words can be answered by the Torah's own words. As we find in this case.


We might wonder why Rashi chose the drash over the p'shat interpretation. I suggest that he wanted to teach us a lesson. The "eglah arufa" ceremony was performed when a dead man was found outside a city and the murderer is unknown. The Sages of the city are held responsible, even though they didn't actually kill this man, but had they thought of protecting the stranger from a possible attack by hostile forces, he wouldn't have died.

So too with Joseph. Jacob sent him to his brothers who hated him. Jacob should have thought of this and protected him in some way. The sign sent by Joseph conveyed all this.

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.

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