It says in the parsha
(Bereishis 45:17) that Pharoh commanded Yosef to prepare wagons for his family
and send them to bring his father and the rest of his family to Egypt, where
they were to receive the most fertile land. Subsequently, the Torah relates
(45:27) that when “Yaakov saw the wagons that Yosef sent,” he was determined
to go and see him. Rashi informs us that the agolos (wagons) were an
allusion to the eglah arufah, the last sugya that Yaakov and Yosef
learned together before the latter’s disappearance. Those wagons removed any
remaining doubt in his mind that Yosef was really still alive.
All of this is hard to understand. First of all, Yosef didn’t
send the wagons; it was Pharoh who decreed it. Secondly, if Yosef wanted to hint
at the eglah arufah, why would he send wagons? If they hadn’t needed
wagons, one could perhaps understand that they were intended as a hint at
something. But they needed the wagons to transport their belongings. How could
they have hinted at anything? He would have done better to send him a little
To further complicate matters, there’s a midrash that
says that Yehuda burned the wagons because they came from Pharoh with avodah
zara engraved on them. Then,Yosef sent other wagons, and Yaakov saw the
wagons that Yosef sent.
It can be explained in the following way: Old people don’t
like to move. They are used to their surroundings, and they don’t feel
comfortable in a new place. In order to overcome the aged Yaakov’s reluctance to
move, Pharoh sent word that he shouldn’t worry about having the right clothing,
furniture, etcetera, for life in Egypt. “Don’t worry about your possessions.
Just come, and I’ll outfit you and the whole family with everything you need to
live comfortably in Egypt.You’ll fit in perfectly!”
Yosef knew that if he told that to his father he would never
come in a million years! The last thing Yaakov wanted was to fit into the
Egyptian lifestyle. On the contrary, he would only agree to come if he could
avoid assimilation. So Yosef, following the intention, though not the letter of
Pharoh’s command, sent other wagons, not the ones Pharoh wanted. He sent
wagons with which they could take everything with them; so that they could
re-establish themselves in Egypt as a nation apart.
And that’s exactly what Yosef said later on: “I’m going
to go tell Pharoh that my family, who are b’Eretz Canaan, have come to
me.” It shouldn’t say b’Eretz Canaan, but m’Eretz Canaan; not in,
but from Eretz Canaan. But it says it that way because Yaakov never
really left Eretz Canaan. They transferred themselves into a little ghetto
amongst the Egyptians, but they weren’t in Egypt.
It says that Yehuda burnt the first wagons. It doesn’t mean
that he burnt them physically. The first wagons represented assimilation to an
idolatrous culture. So Yosef replaced them, and Yehuda took those to Yaakov.
When Yaakov saw the ones that Yosef sent, he realized that Yosef was still alive
because they were not vehicles for assimilation but for a separate existence.
The Baalei Tosafos write that when Yaakov originally sent
Yosef to find his brothers, he tried to escort Yosef. Yosef told him that it
wasn’t necessary. But Yaakov countered that there’s a tremendous value in
escorting somebody. We learn this from the parsha of eglah arufah,
in which the elders wash their hands over the eglah and declare that they
are not responsible for the death of the person, since they gave him an escort
out of the city. An escort can save a person’s life.
The obvious question is: you only have to escort him dalet
amos. A person could be killed miles away. What does it help to escort
him dalet amos?
The answer is that a person isn’t only where he is
physically. He is where his mind is. If you’ve escorted him dalet amos,
you’ve created a connection with that person. He’s still connected to you, even
though he’s miles away. Being connected to you makes him part of the community,
and it gives him the merit of the community. Alone, a person needs great merit
to be protected from danger; whereas one who is connected to others has the
merit of the community for protection.
That was Yosef’s message to Yaakov: I may be in Mitzraim
physically, but my mind is in Eretz Yisroel. I want you to come to Mitzraim as baim
Mitzraimah, always coming but never there. Then you’ll be able to survive.
Yaakov got the hint from Yosef’s wagons, and he came.