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Educational Foundation

Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

After a tumultuous roller-coaster of events, Yaakov's sons returned to Canaan and informed him that his beloved son Yosef, whom he had assumed was dead for 22 years, was in fact alive and prospering in Egypt. Astonished by the remarkable turn of events and in spite of his advanced age, Yaakov prepared himself and his family for the lengthy journey to Egypt in order to be reunited with Yosef.

As they drew near to the section of Egypt called Goshen, Yaakov sent his son Yehuda ahead of him to prepare for him the way (Gen. 46:28). Rashi explains that "preparing for him the way" refers to Yaakov's instructions that Yehuda establish a house of study where he would be able to learn and teach Torah. Considering Yaakov's age and all that he had recently experienced, did this really need to be his highest priority? Shouldn't he have first focused on getting reunited with Yosef and comfortably settling his family into their new homes?

The Shelah HaKadosh derives from Yaakov's actions and priorities that wherever a person goes, he should first ensure that his spiritual needs are in place and afterward attend to his more mundane concerns. Although Yaakov clearly had a number of important tasks to attend to on his momentous journey, the Torah records his focus on establishing a house of study prior to his arrival to show us his true priorities so that we may learn from them.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that the biggest mistake made by the early immigrants to America was that they were so focused on trying to make a living that they neglected to make time to set up schools to provide a religious education to the next generation. As a result, thousands of Jewish children weren't given an opportunity to be properly educated about their religious heritage.

Now that we understand the value of taking spiritual considerations into account when making life decisions, we can appreciate the following anecdote. The Stropkover Rebbe was once purchasing an apartment and narrowed the choices down to two. Each of them had various aesthetic and practical pros and cons, and it was difficult to decide which of them was superior. Ultimately, he chose the apartment which had exactly 26 steps (the numerical value of God's Name) ascending to it, as that would allow him to remember God every time that he entered or exited his home.

Although the level of spiritual sensitivity depicted in this story is clearly beyond us, its lesson is still applicable. We all make daily decisions concerning our homes, our jobs, and our families. When evaluating the different options, we should learn from Yaakov the importance of trying to view the world through a more spiritual lens and taking that perspective into account when making our decisions.

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In Yehuda's entire passionate address to Yosef (Gen. 44:18-34), he added no information or arguments which weren't already known to Yosef. What was his intention in reiterating the information to Yosef, and what did he hope to accomplish by doing so?

The Bais HaLevi explains that Yehuda realized that the brothers' original interactions with Yosef seemed bizarre and inexplicable. They told him that they came to buy grain, and he responded that they were spies. They answered that they were honest, and he told them that now they had proven his claim that they were spies. Since Yosef's responses didn't seem to correspond to the brothers' statements, it occurred to Yehuda that perhaps the miscommunication was due to the translator, who wasn't accurately relaying to Yosef the content of what the brothers had said, but was instead fabricating statements which they had never made.

In order to clarify whether this was the case, Yehuda asked for permission to review the entire dialogue directly in the ears of Yosef, without the involvement of the translator. In order to preempt Yosef from responding that he didn't understand the Hebrew language that they spoke, Yehuda stated that Yosef was like Pharaoh. If Yosef would now claim to be unfamiliar with their language, this would imply that Pharaoh didn't know it as well, an inference which would be disrespectful to Pharaoh and therefore forbidden to make.

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Which three sets of twins are mentioned explicitly by name in Parshas Vayigash?

Peretz and Zerach (Gen. 46:12) were twins, as is explicitly recorded in the Torah (Gen. 38:27-30). The Seder Olam writes that Rochel and Leah (Gen. 46:15,19) were twins. The Seder HaDoros writes that Yosef's sons Menashe and Ephraim (Gen. 46:20) were twins. HaK'sav V'HaKabbalah suggests that in using the singular verb "yulad" to refer to their births as a single birth (Gen. 46:27), the Torah indicates that they were born together.

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