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.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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:
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]
) 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
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.
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).
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."
Don Isaac Abarbanel
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
Rabbi Isaiah ben Abraham
ha-Levi (1565?-1630), rabbi, kabbalist, communal leader and author of Shenei
, in his work Musarei ha-Shelah
, Jerusalem 1985, pp.
 Ha-Keter Mikraot
, Joshua-Judges, p. 47.
On Goshen being a good land
for shepherds, see Judah Elizur and Judah Keel, Da'at Mikra Atlas
Jerusalem 1993, p. 94.