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What was it about wagons that convinced Jacob that Joseph was really alive?

This week’s Torah portion is ‘Vayigash’ (Genesis 44:18-47:27), and in it we read about Jacob being informed that Joseph was alive, followed by their face-to-face reunion.

For 22 years Jacob was mourning for Joseph. We are told that even after 22 years, the mourning was as intense as day one. Jacob never got over the ‘loss’ of Joseph. All of Jacob’s sons and extended family saw Jacob’s intense mourning.

When Joseph’s brothers returned from Egypt to tell their father that Joseph was alive, he originally didn’t believe them. They told him about all of Joseph’s success and riches. But nothing. It was only after Jacob’s sons told him that Joseph sent him “wagons” laden with food and gifts did he believe the news that Joseph was alive and second-in-command of Egypt.

The Midrash (rabbinic literature) tells us that the last thing the Jacob and Joseph had discussed together – before Joseph was nearly murdered by his brothers but instead sold to Egypt – were the laws of the Egla Arufa, the decapitated calf. The “decapitated calf” is a somewhat mysterious ceremony that is performed when someone is found murdered along the road. If the murderer is not found, a calf is decapitated as a form of atonement. (See Deut. 21 for more).

The word for “calf” in Hebrew is almost identical to the word for “wagon.” By specifically sending his father wagons, Joseph was also sending the subliminal message that he still remembered their last conversation together, when they discussed the laws of the decapitated calf.

As soon as Yaakov saw the wagons, he understood the subliminal message and accepted that Joseph was alive.

What was it about wagons that convinced Jacob that Joseph was really alive?

Jacob knew that a person who could stay connected to religious teachings, spirituality, and mitzvot (Torah commandments) observance after being immersed for 22 years in the immorality of Egypt was truly “alive” in every sense of the word. Reports of wealth and riches did not move Jacob to believe that Joseph was alive, because Jacob raised Joseph not to focus on the material, but on the spiritual. Only when Jacob saw that Joseph sent a “spiritual message” did he believe that he was alive.

And so it is with us. We must learn to focus on what’s important in life. We should not focus on fancy cars, homes and vacations. We should focus on more dignified and spiritual pursuits whose effects last forever, both in this world and the next!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.






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