Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Worms and Wagons
The news was heard in Pharaoh's palace, saying, "Yosef's
brothers have come!" And it was pleasing in the eyes of
Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants. Pharaoh said to
Yosef, ". . . take from the land of Egypt wagons for your
small children, and for your wives; take your father, and
come..." They went up from Egypt and came to the land
of Canaan, to Yaakov their father. And they told him,
"Yosef is still alive!" - and that he is ruler over all the land
of Egypt; yet his heart rejected [their words]. But when
they related to him all the words that Yosef had spoken
to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to
transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was
Rashi explains that it was the wagons that ultimately convinced
Yaakov that Yosef was alive. Wagons, in Hebrew, are "agalos." Calves
are "eglos" (these two words are written identically). Yaakov had been
in the middle of learning with Yosef the laws of the "eglah arufah," the
calf whose neck is broken in expiation of an unsolved murder (see
Devarim 21:1-9), when Yosef disappeared. When he saw the agalos
(wagons), Yaakov was reminded of this. Rashi points out that
although Pharaoh had in fact sent the wagons, the verse recounts
that when Yaakov saw "the wagons that Yosef had sent" - then his
spirit was revived!
It does seem kind of strange, though, because ultimately the wagons
were not Yosef's idea, but rather Pharaoh's! Imagine you're looking for
someone in a crowd. You've been told, mistakenly, that this person
always wears a red necktie, so you're looking for the man with the red
necktie. Suddenly, you spot him - there his is, with the red necktie.
You run up to him and introduce yourself. "How did you find me?" he
asks in wonder? "Why I just looked for the person with the red
necktie!" "But I never wear a red necktie! It's just that this morning all
my other ties were at the cleaners, and this was the only necktie I
had. It's the first time I've ever worn it!"
Amazing coincidence? Yes. But the sign was still a lousy one. He was
looking for something he shouldn't have seen, yet by some incredible
hashgacha pratis (Divine providence), did! That it occurred to
Pharaoh to send Yaakov wagons, which in turn reminded him of what
he had been studying with Yosef, is truly amazing. But it does not
seem to have been a sign from Yosef to Yaakov - so why does the
Torah make it sound that way? Also: What was it about the wagons
that brought back Yaakov's spirit more so than all the other signs
Yosef had given the brothers (that he was circumcised, that he spoke
the Holy Tongue, etc.)?
Sha'ar bas Rabim (volume 1 page 204 quoting Mesoras ha-Bris)
cites the Targum Yonasan ben Uziel (Devarim 21:8) that after the
beis din (Rabbinical court) would break the neck of the calf, worms
would emerge from its body which would slither and squirm until they
came to the true murderer, thereby identifying him. This would
enable beis din to begin gathering the evidence they needed in order
to convict him. By sending the wagons (agalos), Yosef was hinting to
the following: You may not believe that I'm still alive. But I am! It is
true that they had originally intended to put me to death (see Rashi
parshas Vayechi 49:9 that Yaakov had suspected the brothers of
killing him). Do you know how I convinced them not to? I told them
about the halacha of the eglah arufah we were studying, and how
worms would ultimately come and identify them! They reconsidered.
[Yosef apparently sent additional wagons, besides those sent by
Pharaoh, to hint this to his father.]
Perhaps, however, there is a simpler explanation. Suppose you're
making a wedding. You send out invitations to friends and relatives
across the globe. Do you put a plane ticket into each invitation? Not
unless you're very wealthy. But, if you're inviting someone very special
and important, such as a Rebbe or a Rosh Yeshiva, then its a sign
of respect for you to provide the transportation (and to do so in a way
that befits their honor, i.e. don't send them a bus ticket!).
Upon hearing that Yosef had become very powerful and influential in
Egypt, it was no small matter of concern to Yaakov that perhaps all
this power had gone to his head. Could Yosef, finding himself in a
high-ranking position in the Egyptian government, still have remained
true to the values and morals Yaakov taught and lived? Or had he, G-
d forbid, taken on the appearance of the modern-day politician;
worldly mannerisms and all the bells and whistles of wealth and
power? How would Yosef feel about Pharaoh meeting his 130 year
old father - an alter Yid (an old Jew) - whose manner and dress were
a far cry from the Egyptian vogue? Would he feel proud or ashamed?
Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson zt"l explains that it was not really
important whether it had been Yosef's idea, or Pharaoh's, to send the
wagons. The wagons were an expression of Yosef's deep respect and
honour for his father - something which he evidently had succeeded
in conveying to Pharaoh. Such that Pharaoh insisted that for
someone as important as Yaakov, nothing less that the best-equipped
royal wagons would do! When Yaakov saw the wagons, and
understood that Yosef took pride in his father, and was not ashamed,
"then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived!" [Divrei Shaul].
Have a good Shabbos.
****** This week's publication was sponsored by Mr. and
Mrs. Yehoshua Farkas, in memory of R' Chaim ben R'
Moshe Yechiel Uhr. ******
Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.