Joseph Harnessed His Chariot
Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27 )
Our parsha reaches the climax of the drama between Joseph and his brothers. Jacob is finally reunited with his long-lost son, Joseph. And Joseph is reunited with his brothers. Jacob is brought down to Egypt to see Joseph. We find the following verse as Joseph prepares for the emotional meeting between father and son:
"And Joseph harnessed his chariot and went up to meet his father, Israel, in Goshen. When he appeared to him, he fell on his neck and he wept excessively on his neck."
Joseph harnessed his chariot - RASHI: He himself harnessed the horses to the chariot hastily in order to honor his father.
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi's comment seems clear enough. The Torah says that Joseph harnessed his chariot and Rashi tells us that Joseph harnessed his chariot!
What would you ask here?
A Question: What has Rashi added to what the verse already says? What is bothering him that he has to make this quite obvious comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: When the verse says that Joseph harnessed his chariot, it could be interpreted to mean that he ordered any one of his many servants to do this menial task. Joseph was the highest officer in the land, next to Pharaoh in power. He certainly wouldn't be doing such degrading work himself.
THE IBN EZRA'S INTERPRETATION
In fact, this is the way the Ibn Ezra interprets the verse. Joseph had his servants do this. Just as it says, "And Solomon built the Temple" (I Kings 6:14). Certainly King Solomon didn't mix the cement and set the stones of the Temple walls with his own hands. This verse obviously means that Solomon had it built by others, and not by himself. Nevertheless, it is called Solomon's Temple. So here, too, says the Ibn Ezra, it was not Joseph himself who did the harnessing. He only ordered it to be done.
So why does Rashi think that our verse means that Joseph actually harnesssed the chariot himself? Isn't it more reasonable, as the Ibn Ezra says, that it only means Joseph had it done, but not that he actually did this task himself?
Can you defend Rashi and think of a difference between our verse and the one about Solomon building the Temple?
An Answer: The Torah doesn't write anything that is trivial. The Torah is not a novel which strives to be poetically descriptive just for the sake of artistry. Everything written has some significance, some message. This is an important rule in p'shat interpretation. To write that Joseph harnessed his chariot and to mean that he had his servants do this, is a trivial piece of information. Joseph also got dressed in the morning, but there is no need for the Torah to mention that. Nor is there a need to mention having his chariot harnessed. He couldn't have driven it otherwise. But when the Tanach tells us that Solomon built the Temple, that is significant. He ordered it to be built. He was the first man in history to do that. So while he didn't actually do the "dirty work" of construction, he did oversee its being built. This, then, is what "and Solomon built the Temple" means.
In Joseph's case, there is really no significance in having his chariot harnessed. Everyone who rode in that era did likewise. So Rashi tells us that if the Torah took the trouble to mention this, it must have some significance. The significance, Rashi tells us, is to show us Joseph's love and alacrity for his father. He actually harnessed his chariot with his own hands. Because he so desired to meet his father as soon as possible.
So the verse is by no means trivial. It tells us about a trivial act but its significance is not trivial. Its importance lies precisely in the fact that the powerful Joseph did this lowly task himself, because of his love for his father.
Shabbat Shalom & Chanukah Samayach,