Monday, December 29, 2008

Joseph's Wagons

An interesting bit of two-way torah is found toward the beginning of this week's parsha, when Yosef sends his father a caravan of wagons. The verse says:
וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָעֲגָלוֹת, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ; וַתְּחִי,רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם
And [Jacob] saw the wagons Yosef had sent to carry him and the spirit of Jacob their father revived.
What was it about the wagons that improved Jacob's mood, and convinced him his son was alive? On the spot Rashi (rather too famously) cites the midrash that the wagons were proof that Yosef was alive, because the last thing Yosef and his father had studied together was the case of the Egla Arufa and wagons (Agalot), though unrelated to the case, pun on Egel.
He (Joseph) gave them a sign, viz., in what topic he was engaged when he (Joseph) separated from him (Jacob). [That was] the section dealing with the heifer that was to be beheaded (עֶגְלָה עִרוּפָה) (Deut. 21), and this is what [Scripture] says, “and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent,” and it (Scripture) does not say, “that Pharaoh had sent.” [from Gen. Rabbah 94:3
The Kli Yakar, who seems to belong to the school of thought which says the Avot neither knew nor kept all the mitzvot disagrees. After delivering a blogger-stye attack on Rashi's tendency to depart from the pshat, he points out that Yosef sent his father more than one wagon. He concludes that the extra wagons were sent for the purpose of escort (levaya). The custom of escort was well-established in Abraham's family; indeed when Yosef departed from his father for the last time, Yaakov escorted him (וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן). Moreover, the wagons were not merely proof that Yosef was a live, but proof that he had kept alive the family practices: therefore, "the spirit of Jacob their father revived."
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