The Hidden Meaning Behind the Wagons

There exists a Rashi that I have always found quite perplexing until now.
After Yosef reveals his identity to his brothers he orders them to bring Yakov and their families down to Egypt. Yosef sends wagons and provisions and instructs them to tell Yakov that he is still alive and that they should come down to live in Goshen, where he will provide for them during the remaining five years of famine.

At first, Yakov rejects the report that Yosef was still alive. However, upon seeing the wagons and hearing what the brothers have to say his spirit was revived and he accepts the news.

וַיְדַבְּר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו אֵ֣ת כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֤י יוֹסֵף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר דִּבֶּ֣ראֲלֵהֶ֔ם וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־הָ֣עֲגָל֔וֹת אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח יוֹסֵ֖ףלָשֵׂ֣את אֹת֑וֹ וַתְּחִ֕י ר֖וּחַ יַעֲקֹ֥ב
And they told him all of Joseph’s words that he had said to them, and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Jacob was revived

Rashi says that Yosef instructed his brothers to tell Yakov that the last topic he studied with his father was Eglah Arufa. This law states [Devarim 21:1-9] that if one finds a dead body in an open field and they don’t know who the murderer is, the elders of the nearest city have to go out and make the following proclamation: “We have done our duty; we were not derelict in treating this person wrongly; our hands did not spill this blood; we were not aware of it”. They then have to bring a special atonement offering known as the Eglah Arufa. The Maharal notes that the declaration of the elders in the case of Eglah Arufa implies that the murder might not have taken place had the victim been escorted as required. The mitzvah does not require one to escort a wayfarer all the way out of the city, but only partway to display comradeship to the other. He goes on to say that when Jews feel solidarity with one another, God himself provides an extra measure of protection for the remainder of the journey.

It’s a common misconception that Rashi bases this on the word Eglah/calf עגלה being the same spelling as Agalah/wagon עגלה, but in fact, this is only a secondary hint towards the true meaning.  The keyword in the pasuk is actually “שָׁלַ֥ח”. Bereishit 45/27 says:  “וַיַּרְא֙ אֶת־הָ֣עֲגָל֔וֹת אֲשֶׁר־שָׁלַ֥ח יוֹסֵ֖ף”/ “and he (Yakov) saw the wagons that Yosef sent”. How come it says “that Yosef sent” when we know from the text that the wagons were sent by Paro, not by Yosef (Bereishit 45/19). Rashi gives the key to answering this question when he explains in Bereishis 18:16 that when the angels leave Avraham after their visit it says “וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הֹלֵ֥ךְ עִמָּ֖ם לְשַׁלְּחָֽם׃ “/ “and Abraham went with them and sent them on the way”. Rashi is interpreting the word “לְשַׁלְּחָֽם” to mean accompany/ לויה in order to resolve the apparent redundancy of שָׁלַ֥ח/sent when the text already said הֹלֵ֥ךְ/went. Our pasuk, therefore, is telling us when it says “the wagons that Yosef sent” that he escorted the brothers part of the way. This is evidenced earlier when Yosef sends his brothers to get Yakov (Bereishit 45;25) where it once again uses the word Vayishlach. ” ….וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־אֶחָ֖יו וַיֵּלֵ֑כוּ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֔ם אַֽל־תִּרְגְּז֖וּ בַּדָּֽרֶךְ. וַֽיַּעֲל֖וּ מִמִּצְרָ֑יִם.”
Here exists the same redundancy of sent and went which we saw earlier with Avraham and the angels. By using Rashi’s understanding of the word שָׁלַ֥ח/sent to mean escort, this pasuk can be understood in the following way. Yosef escorted his brothers as they began their journey at which time he told them not to get agitated on the way. The next pasuk says that they then went up from Egypt on the way to Canaan. Yosef accompanied them part of the way until the border of Egypt and then they continued on their own to Canaan.

All this was told to Yakov upon the brothers’ arrival which prompted him to believe the story that he had first rejected based solely on the words “ע֚וֹד יוֹסֵ֣ף חַ֔י”/”Yosef is still alive”. Rashi is trying to tell us that was the lesson Yakov taught Yosef the last time he saw him when he directed Yosef to go check on his brothers (Bereishit 37:13).

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל אֶל־יוֹסֵ֗ף הֲל֤וֹא אַחֶ֙יךָ֙ רֹעִ֣ים בִּשְׁכֶ֔ם לְכָ֖ה וְאֶשְׁלָחֲךָ֣ אֲלֵיהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֥אמֶר ל֖וֹהִנֵּֽנִי

Once again we see the now familiar pairing of לֵ֥ךְ/went and שָׁלַ֥ח/sent. Here too, Yakov escorted Yosef part of the way before Yosef left to check on his brothers.

In the next pasuk it says “וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֙הוּ֙מֵעֵ֣מֶק חֶבְר֔וֹן וַיָּבֹ֖א שְׁכֶֽמָה” We learn from this that Yakov escorted Yosef until Chevron. The Zohar says that the meaning of “the depths of chevron” is that Yakov took Yosef to the tomb of Avraham and saw him off from there.

One can envision father and son walking side by side to the burial place of Yakov’s beloved grandfather. On the way, Yakov is having a heart to heart with his son. He is telling him all about what Avraham stood for. Avraham, as seen earlier in the case of the malachim, always escorted his guests when they left. This was not common practice in those days. This was his trademark. It was a unique behavior that Yakov was trying to instill in Yosef as he sent him off to check on his brothers. Avraham established a place known as an Eshel, acronym for achila, shtia and either lina or levia (food, drink, and sleep or escort) for wayfarers to stop in to eat drink and rest. It was Avraham’s way to escort his guests part of their journey, displaying his care and concern for them as they travel. Yakov then instructs Yosef to do the same. That was the last conversation they had before the entire saga that separated the two for 22 years. When the brothers come to Yakov and tell the story of how Yosef escorted them part of the way, Yakov perked up as he recalled the events of their last meeting.

This Mitzvah of escorting people particularly speaks to me today. We live in a scary time where we can’t be assured when we take leave of someone that we will ever see them again. It is important to take the extra time and escort them as much as reasonably possible and hope that God will assure the rest of the way.

Based on Kli Yakar commentary on Breishit 45:27.

About the Author
Aliza Lipkin is a firm lover and believer in her country, her people and her G-d. She moved from the land of the free (America) to the home of the brave (Israel) 10 years ago and now resides with her family in Maaleh Adumim.
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