Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Vayigash
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

שמחה בת חנה

Parashat Vayigash

Three Heads Are Better than One


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

6 Tevet 5765
The Torah relates that as Yaakov and family approached Egypt, he "sent Yehuda before him to Yosef to prepare before him in Goshen" (Bereishit 46: 28). What was the point of Yehuda’s arrival before his brothers, and why was he specifically chosen for the task?

The Midrash Aggada says that since Yosef was a king and Yehuda was a king, it was proper to send one king before another. The Midrash Hagdol says that since Yehuda had started with the mitzva of approaching Yosef, when pleading for Binyamin’s life, he should continue the mitzva. These explanations put the stress on the encounter between Yehuda, head of the delegation, and Yosef, the delegation’s host. Midrash Rabba, cited by Rashi, seems to take a different approach. It says that Yehuda had a specific task, to set up an academy for the study and teaching of Torah. What this approach does not explain is the choice of Yehuda. Isn’t it Levi (Devarim 33:10) and Shimon (Rashi on Bereishit 49:7) who are in charge of Torah education?

There need not be a contradiction between the explanations we have cited. Yehuda represented the Jewish people’s leadership and the initiative to accomplish daunting tasks for mitzva’s sake. He was, therefore, called upon to prepare and build the school system, which may have been staffed by his brothers. For fundamental, not only technical reasons, it is crucial that lay leaders take an active role in building Torah institutions. Torah centers cannot be seen as secluded ivory towers, of interest to the spiritual elite alone. The Yehudas of the world need to demonstrate that their leadership begins by ensuring that Torah flourishes and that those efforts are the foundation for the rest of their leadership responsibilities.

But we have still not explained Yosef’s role in this effort. One can say that he just provided the governmental approval for the building sites, but I believe that the answer is deeper. Yehuda represented leadership in the more insular community that the family had known and would someday know again. But as they approached the challenge of building a Torah center in Egypt, which could teach the developing nation how to implement eternal truths in new environs, Yehuda had to draw inspiration and learn strategies of how to survive in Egypt from Yosef. Yosef, who was able to apply the teachings of his father, the shepherd, to the halachic and moral dilemmas he faced as the ruler of the ancient world’s superpower, was the perfect advisor to Yehuda. Yet, in the final analysis, it was Yehuda who carried out the work with Yosef’s blessing and tutelage.

This ancient "triple thread" of Yosef, Yehuda, and Levi demonstrates the multi-faceted challenges of developing and running a Torah institution according to the needs of the time and the place. May all of the modern-day implementers of this lesson be successful in their holy tasks.

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