The Torah tells us that when Yaakov moved his family to Egypt, where the Jewish people were to reside for more than two centuries, “he sent Yehudah ahead . . . to show the way” (Bereishis 46:28). The Hebrew word l’horos (“to show the way”) literally means “to teach” and “to instruct,” prompting the Midrash to say that the purpose of Yehudah’s mission was “to establish a house of learning from which would be disseminated the teachings of Torah.”
But Yosef was already in Egypt, and Yaakov had already received word that Yosef’s 22 years away from home had not diminished his knowledge of and commitment to Torah. And Yosef certainly had the authority and the means to establish the most magnificent yeshiva in the empire. Why did Yaakov desire that Yehudah—a penniless immigrant who barely knew the language—be the one to establish the house of learning that was to serve the Jewish People in Egypt?
Yehudah And Yosef
The children of Yaakov were divided into two factions: on one side were ten of the twelve brothers, led by Yehudah; on the other, Yosef, whose differences with his brothers were the cause of much pain and strife in Yaakov’s family.
The conflict between Yosef and his brothers ran deeper than a multicolored coat or a favorite son’s share of his father’s affections. It was a conflict between two worldviews—between two approaches to life as a Jew in a pagan world.
Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov were shepherds, as were Yosef’s brothers. They chose this vocation because they found the life of the shepherd—a life of seclusion, communion with nature, and distance from the tumult and vanities of society—most conducive to their spiritual pursuits. Tending their sheep in the valleys and on the hills of Canaan, they could turn their backs on the mundane affairs of man, contemplate the majesty of the Creator, and serve Him with a clear mind and tranquil heart.
Yosef was the exception. He was a man of the world—a “fortuitous achiever” in business and politics. Sold into slavery, he was soon chief manager of his master’s affairs. Thrown into jail, he was soon a high-ranking member of the prison administration. He went on to become viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in the most powerful nation on earth.
Yet none of this touched him. Slave, prisoner, ruler of millions, controller of an empire’s wealth—it made no difference: the same Yosef who had studied Torah at the feet of his father traversed the palaces and government halls of Egypt. His spiritual and moral self derived from within and was totally unaffected by his society, environment, or the occupation that claimed his involvement 24 hours a day.
The conflict between Yosef and his brothers was the conflict between a spiritual tradition and a new worldliness; between a community of shepherds and an entrepreneur. The brothers could not accept that a person can lead a worldly existence without becoming worldly; that a person can remain one with G‑d while immersed in the affairs of the most depraved society on earth.
In this conflict, Yosef was to emerge the victor. The spiritual seclusion that characterized the first three generations of Jewish history was destined to end; Yaakov and his family moved to Egypt, where the “smelting pit” of exile was to forge their descendants into the Nation of Israel. As Yosef had foreseen in his dreams, his brothers and his father bowed to him, prostrating their approach to his. Yaakov had understood the significance of these dreams all along, and had awaited their fulfillment; Yosef’s brothers, who found it more difficult to accept that the era of the shepherd was drawing to a close, fought him for 22 bitter years, until they, too, came to accept that the historical challenge of Israel was to be the challenge of living a spiritual life in a material environment.
Nevertheless, it was Yehudah, not Yosef, who was chosen by Yaakov to establish the house of learning that was to serve as the source of Torah knowledge for the Israelites in Egypt.
The first three generations of Jewish life were not a “false start”: they were the foundation of all that was to follow. It was this foundation from which Yosef drew the strength to persevere in his faith and righteousness in an alien environment; it was this foundation upon which the entire edifice of Jewish history was to be constructed.
The Jew lives in a material world, but his roots are planted in the soil of unadulterated spirituality. In his daily life he must be a Yosef, but his education must be provided by a Yehudah.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; adapted by Yanki Tauber. Courtesy of MeaningfulLife.com via Chabad.org. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.