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"And He Saw the Wagons"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital





Dedicated in memory of Yehuda Chaim ben Aharon Safier z"l
by Rafe and Roberta Safier







“And He Saw the Wagons”


Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish


“And when he saw the wagons which Yosef had sent, to carry him, the spirit of Yaakov, their father, was revived.” (Bereishit 45:27)


“He [Yosef] conveyed a sign to them. What had he been involved in when he left him [Yaakov]? The parasha of the egla arufa [the heifer whose neck is broken in the event that a murder victim is found and the murderer is unknown]. This is why the text says, ‘when he saw the wagons (agalot) which Yosef had sent’ – rather than ‘which Pharaoh had sent.’” (Rashi ad loc.)


The midrash teaches that before Yosef became separated from his father’s house, he and Yaakov had been studying the parasha of the egla arufa. What idea is the midrash trying to convey by this? The Da’at Zekenim (one of the Ba’alei Tosafot) teaches:


“Rashi explained, ‘He conveyed a sign to them, for when he left them he had been learning the parasha of the egla arufa.’ But his explanation in turn requires explanation, and it seems most likely that the meaning is as follows: When he took leave of his father, [Yaakov] accompanied him… and Yosef said to him, ‘Go back,’ but Yaakov said, ‘My son, great is [the mitzva of] accompanying [one who leaves]; for its sake a parasha was added to the Torah’ … and that is the parasha of egla arufa, which is what they had been studying.”


When Yaakov sent Yosef to his brothers, he accompanied him on the way. Yosef, not wishing to impose upon his father, suggested that he return. To this Yaakov replied that the mitzva of accompanying one who sets out on a journey should not be taken lightly, since an entire parasha in the Torah pertains to it – the parasha of the egla arufa. Now, when Yosef is about to be reunited with his father, he recalls to him that exchange, by sending him the wagons.


What does the parasha of the egla arufa have to do with escorting someone who sets off on a journey? Da’at Zekenim bases his words above on Rashi’s well-known comment (deriving from Sota 45b) on the declaration which the Torah stipulates for the elders of the closest locations to where a murder victim is found: ‘Our hands have not spilled this blood’:


“Would anyone have imagined that the elders of the court are murderers? [Surely not.] Rather, [what they mean is,] ‘We did not see him and let him go without food and an escort.’” (Rashi on Devarim 21:7)


Thus, the parasha of egla arufa teaches us the importance of the mitzva of escorting guests. The Rambam counts this mitzva along with several other positive rabbinical laws arising from the obligation of kindness (gemilut chasadim):


“It is a positive commandment, based on Chazal’s teachings, to visit the sick, and to comfort mourners, and to escort the dead [to burial], and to provide for a bride, and to accompany guests….” (Hilkhot Avel 14:1)


He then continues:


“The rewards for accompanying [guests] is greater than all of the others, and it is a law laid down by Avraham our forefather, and it is the manner of kindness which he practiced, feeding wayfarers and giving them drink and accompanying them, and welcoming guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence… and accompanying them [when they leave] is even greater than welcoming them. Our Sages taught: ‘Anyone who does not accompany [a guest on his way] is considered as though he spilled blood.’” (ibid., 14:2)


Why is this mitzva so important? Unquestionably, its essential purpose must be something other than protection of the guest – since in any case we do not accompany him as far as his own home, but rather only part of the way (see Rambam ibid., 14:3, concerning how far one is to accompany him). Seemingly, the crux of the matter lies in the guest’s feeling of security; he feels that he is being attended to, that he is not alone. This strengthens his self-confidence, thereby making it easier for him to face the dangers of the journey.


Today, in the age of motor transport, people do not generally walk by foot from one city to another, and the mitzva has accordingly fallen away. However, its fundamental message remains relevant: every person deserves our attention; we must not allow a situation in which a person feels alone.


In fact, it is specifically in today’s mass culture that there is a real danger of a person feeling alone: people can live and die in a big city without anyone knowing of their existence. This feeling of loneliness takes a terrible toll on society and the people living in it. In this sense, the idea behind the mitzva of accompanying a guest remains relevant in our time, perhaps even more than it was in the past. Therefore, in any given framework, we must take an interest in the wellbeing of people in general, and of guests or newcomers in particular, and to ensure that they are not alone.


The Gemara states:


“Rabbi Yochanan said: One who smiles at his friend is better than one who gives him milk to drink, as it is written, ‘and his teeth white from milk’ (Bereishit 49:12) – do not read ‘leven shinayim’ (his teeth white) but rather ‘libun shinayim’ (showing the white of the teeth – i.e., smiling).” (Ketubot 111b)


Sometimes a smile is what someone else needs even more than food or drink. A smile gives him a good feeling of warmth and of someone taking an interest. Another Gemara says:


“Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna: Anyone who knows that his friend usually greets him, should greet him first… and if [his friend] greeted him and he did not respond, he is called a thief….” (Berakhot 6b)


Apparently the Gemara refers here not only to someone who fails to respond altogether, but also to one who was greeted with a smile and in a friendly manner, but responded begrudgingly, as though fulfilling an obligation and nothing more. Seemingly, this is also the meaning of the beraita (Avot 6:6) that teaches that one of the ways in which Torah is acquired is “bearing a yoke with his friend.” A person must give his friend the feeling that he is not carrying everything on his own shoulders; there is someone who cares and who shares the yoke together with him. Yaakov wanted to impart this message to Yosef before he left, and now Yosef wants to give that message to Yaakov.


(This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat parashat Vayigash 5756 [1995].)