Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
The Wagons that Yosef Sent
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
over all of Egypt... Yet [only] when they related all the words that
had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef sent to transport
him, was the spirit of their father, Yaakov, revived. (45: 26-27)
Why was Yaakov only convinced that Yosef was alive after "seeing the
wagons that Yosef had sent to transport him? (see Rashi)" This is even
more strange if we consider that ostensibly it was Pharaoh that ordered
Yosef to send the wagons: "Pharaoh said to Yosef, 'Say to your
brothers... take from the land of Egypt wagons for your small children
and for your wives, and transport your father and come.' (45:17-19)" So
it wasn't even Yosef's idea, it seems, to send the wagons - yet the wagons
are what convince Yaakov to come along! And why does the pasuk insist
on describing the wagons as, "the wagons that Yosef sent to transport
him," if it was in fact Pharaoh's doings of?
During the French rule over the region of Tafilalt, Morocco, the only
way to travel from one city to another was by caravan. A few decrepit
trucks loaded down with cargo and passengers would clang their way
through the searing desert wasteland until an engine would overheat,
bringing the caravan to a grinding halt, until the geyser of hissing water
and steam emanating from the radiator would subside somewhat. Rusted
truck carcasses lined both sides of the road, half-submerged among the
sand dunes. Tafilalt's caravan would depart once a week, every Tuesday,
and it's route was such that it would always arrive at a certain remote
village on Saturday.
It so happened that this remote village contained a sizeable number of
Jewish residents. They, like most of the Jews of rural Morocco, were
deeply religious people who observed the laws of the Torah. Non-
religious Jewish members of the caravan, who would arrive from the big
city on Shabbos, were not always given the warmest welcome (putting
it mildly). One week, fortune had it that a very wealthy and influential
non-religious Jew from Tafilalt was a member of this caravan. He had
been completely unaware of the timing of the stopover until the caravan
was on the outskirts of the small village. His truck driver warned him
what lay ahead, giving him a blow-by-blow description of the reception
given the last Jew who had arrived there on Shabbos. The man
desperately tried to think of a means to avoid discovery, but for miles
in every direction he could see only the glaring sands of the Sahara
Desert. A man could not last a single day in that harsh environment.
There was no question about it - he would have to enter the village along
with the rest of the caravan, bring what it may.
All of a sudden, a brilliant plan entered his mind. "Hmmm," he thought,
"remote village - it might just work." The more he thought about the
plan, the more he liked it. It involved a minimal expenditure - paying off
the caravan drivers. As he suspected, they were most willing to accept
his money and play along with his plan.
When the trucks rounded the last curve and reached the village, he
made himself as conspicuous as possible. Looking on with satisfaction, he
noticed a pair of Jews on their way to shul pointing their fingers at him.
Perfect! Now everyone would learn of his arrival. Everything was
proceeding exactly according to plan. The trucks lurched to a stop and
the rich Jew headed straight for the village's shul. In he walked, and as
he had expected, the worshippers were already waiting for him.
"Shabbos desecrator!" an older man screamed, "how dare you walk into
our holy synagogue after arriving with your caravan on Shabbos, dressed
as you are with weekday garments? Have you no shame? Have you no
fear of Hashem?!"
The stranger raised his eyebrows in a feigned expression of disbelief.
"But gentlemen," he said, "I'm afraid you've made a most grave mistake.
I am no Shabbos desecrator. Today is Friday - not Shabbos!" The people
looked on, stunned. They had no idea how to respond to this outlandish
claim. "If you don't believe me, just go and ask my drivers - they're right
Members of the congregation looked at one another with mouths agape.
Was this respectable big-city Jew telling the truth? After all, considering
how isolated their village was from the rest of the Jewish world, it was
conceivable that someone long ago had made a mistake about the day
of the week, and since then, the error had gone unnoticed. One of the
worshippers called the stranger's bluff, and asked the caravan drivers
what day of the week it was. To his horror they all attested that it was
indeed Friday, and not Saturday!
After their initial shock, the people came to grips with the reality of the
situation, and thanked the stranger for correcting them at long last. The
Shabbos morning service was cancelled, and the members of the
congregation went back to work, as on any other weekday. They ate
their Shabbos food for the midday meal as on any other day, without the
air of reverence and devoutness that usually permeated their Shabbos
meals. Their wives began preparing food for the following evening, which
they believed was the beginning of the "real Shabbos."
It was only due to a Heavenly decree that Rabbi Yechiah Azruel zt"l
happened to pass through the village the very next day - Sunday - which
the townfolk now believed to be Shabbos. Knowing that most of the
Jews were in the marketplace on Sundays, Rabbi Yechiah made his way
to the shul, where he had thought he would find the village's Torah
scholars poring over their holy seforim. He could hardly believe his eyes
when he opened the door of the shul - the entire congregation was
gathered there, dressed in their Shabbos finest and listening to the
reading of the weekly portion!
"What in Heaven's name is going on here?" he demanded to know.
Silence descended, and all heads turned to him questioningly. "It's Sunday
today - not Shabbos!" The people were dumbstruck. For such a thing to
happen twice within twenty-four hours was just too much. The men
looked on with mouths wide open. Someone fainted. One of the
worshippers recounted the surprising events of the previous day, at
which point Rabbi Yechiah understood what had transpired. He
summoned the stranger to the shul and swiftly exposed him as a fraud.
In the presence of the entire congregation he put him into Cherem
(excommunication) and sentenced him to one year in prison (the rabbis
of Morocco were invested with judicial power by the civil authorities).
For the village's Jews, he imposed certain regulations through which they
could atone their inadvertent desecration of Shabbos. [Adapted from
Yated Ne'eman December 23, '98]
The moral of the story? One must be most careful and circumspect
when contemplating the suggestions of others, especially those who don't
share our moral nor religious beliefs and values. While they may
ostensibly seem to be steering us "towards the right path," their words
may, upon closer inspection, be the antithesis of da'as Torah and ratzon
Pharaoh had told Yosef to take "wagons for your small children and for
your wives," and to "transport [lit. carry] your father to Egypt." Pharaoh
had great respect for Yaakov, so much so that transporting him by
wagon simply wouldn't do. Wagons were okay for his wives and children,
but for Yaakov himself, something more grandiose was called for.
Pharaoh suggested: Carry your father to Egypt - lift him up upon your
shoulders, forming a human conveyer-belt, and bring him to Egypt "by
Such a display of grandiosity and pretentiousness was natural for
Pharaoh. He certainly would have accepted no less for himself. Yet for
Yaakov, who had raised his family by constantly stressing the virtues of
humility and modesty, such a pompous demonstration of flashiness was
unthinkable. Especially now, when his family was leaving its homeland,
forced into exile, and spend their lives under foreign rule, it was a time
to lie low and attract as little attention as possible. Such is the way of
House of Yaakov.
"Is it possible," thought Yaakov, "that Yosef has completely forgotten
everything I taught him? That he too has been taken-in by the glitz and
flamboyance of Egyptian royal life, and expects me to parade myself
through the streets of Egypt upon my children's shoulders, as if I were
some kind of military hero or sports-star?" When Yaakov saw the wagons
that Yosef sent to transport him that the spirit of Yaakov was revived -
Pharaoh's instructions had been to send wagons for the women and
children, Yosef understood differently. His father would arrive in Egypt
in a covered wagon, modestly; this was the only way he'd have it.
We live in a time where we come under the constant influence of others
whose values don't necessarily reflect ours. Self-help books and gurus of
various and sundry shapes and colours bombard us with one message:
This is the true path to health, wealth, and happiness. While it is
impossible to live in a vaccuum and shut everything out, a Jew must be
on constant guard, remembering that what works for them might not
necessarily be the best solution for us. The Torah must ultimately be our
guiding light; all else must be examined and refracted through its prism
before giving it our stamp of approval.
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 © 2002 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.