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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

What is the connection between the agalot ("carriages") and our redemption?

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When Ya'akov saw the "agalot" (carriages) which Yosef sent to bring him down to Egypt – it is written in the Torah "and the spirit of their father Ya'akov revived". Why? What is the connection between the two?

The simple explanation is that seeing the royal carriages caused Ya'akov to finally believe that Yosef was indeed alive and the ruler of Egypt. The joy he felt revived his "Ruach Hakodesh" (divine inspiration, spirit) which he was devoid of for years, since Ruach Hakodesh does not dwell in one who is grieving.

Our sages, Chazal, however, offer a homiletic interpretation of the word "agalot": the plural not of "agalah" but rather of "eglah" (heifer) – similarly spelled in Hebrew, but pronounced differently, Yosef's reminder to Ya'akov of "eglah arufah" (the beheaded heifer), the Biblical topic which the two of them had been studying at the time when they parted from each other. This proved to Ya'akov that Yosef had not forgotten the Torah, and thus his spirt was revived!

The aforementioned exegesis of "agalot" also brings to mind the wording of "eglah meshuleshet" – the three heifers - in B'rit Bein HaBetarim (Covenant of the divided parts – Genesis ch. 15). This may be understood as a hint from Yosef to his father: The time has come to realize the covenant, to go down to Egypt – which the prophet Yirmiyahu described as a "fair heifer" (Jer. Ch.46; 20). There is also a connection between Brit bein HaBetarim and the subject of "eglah arufah", since Chazal interpret "eglah meshuleshet" as hinting at three bulls brought as communal offerings of atonement, one of which is "eglah arufah" (although a heifer rather than a bull).

Yaakov sees the carriages and understands the hints concealed witin. The intiial version of Brit bein HaBeatarim is hardly optimistic – leaving the Promised Land, suffering as aliens, slaves, for hundreds of years. But Yaakov, having regained his Ruach HaKodesh, evidently comprehends that this is only a segment of the picture, that the difficult exile in Egypt is part and parcel of the process which the nation must go through in order to reach and fulfill its goal. He sees his family descending to the dark depths of Egypt, but he is able to find soalce in the conclusion of the Brit bein HaBetarim prophecy which speaks of speaks of the future Exodus: "And thereafter they shall leave with great riches…" (Genesis ch. 15).

Another glimpse of the future can be seen by linking the carriages which Yosef sent with the carriages donated to the service of the Tabernacle by the heads of the Tribes (Num. ch. 7). The advantage of this parallel is that now we can retain the original meaning of the word "agalot".

This possibility brings us full circle: The carriages are both a sign of the descent to Egypt – and of the redemption, the Exodus from Egypt, a redemption both physical and spiritual – to the service of G-d in the Tabernacle in the desert![1]

[1]Some of the above ideas are alluded to in the Matnot Kehuna on Bereshit Rabba. Thanks to R' Oded Laub for his elaboration on this theme.
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