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4 Teves 5762 - December 19, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Wagons of Yosef Hatzaddik

by HaRav Y. A. Rabinowitz, Lucerne

The posuk in this week's parsha states: "And he (Yaakov Ovinu) saw the chariots that Yosef sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Yaakov came alive." (Bereishis 45:27) Rashi brings down from Chazal that with the arrival of the wagons came the unspoken message that Yosef still remembered the topic he had been learning with his beloved father just before they were separated, which was the topic of eglah arufoh. Understanding this message is what caused Yaakov's spirit to be revived.

"How can agolos -- wagons -- refer to the topic of eglah arufoh, when these words have two completely different meanings and different punctuation?" ask the Ba'alei Tosafos. The answer they give is a totally new pshat, which is that these agolos referred to the topic of agolos haMishkan -- the wagons which were donated to the Mishkan by the Nesi'im. According to Tosafos, this was the topic which Yaakov and Yosef had last learned together.

We must understand: why did Yosef Hatzaddik choose to transmit his underlying message specifically through this topic of agolos haMishkan? He surely could have used many different means, whether direct or indirect, to convey that which he wished to his esteemed father. And why had Yaakov chosen this particular topic to learn with his favorite son so many years earlier?

Perhaps we can resolve these two questions by explaining Tosafos' answer as follows: Upon looking at the topic of the agolos haMishkan, we find the posuk (Bamidbor 7:3) saying the following: "And they (the Nesi'im) brought their korbonos before Hashem: six covered wagons -- sheish eglos tzov." Why should twelve Nesi'im bring only six wagons? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate that every Nosi donate one wagon? Yet the posuk stresses that no, it was specifically "agoloh al shnei haNesi'im" (Ibid.) -- one wagon for every two Nesi'im.

Seforno there explains that each wagon was donated in partnership in order to demonstrate the brotherhood between them. As a result, they were worthy of Hashem's Shechina resting upon them.

We can learn an amazing concept from the parsha of the Nesi'im: Our holy Torah, in which brevity is of utmost importance, lists the korbonos of the Nesi'im twelve separate times, when each one's korbonos and donations were exactly the same. A tremendous amount of pesukim is used when spelling out the nedova only once could have been enough. However, the Torah repeats it again and again, in the name of each Nosi separately, to relate that they all donated equally, no one contributing more than his fellow Nosi.

The Chofetz Chaim brings down from Chazal that this was actually the idea of Nesanel ben Tzu'ar, the Nosi of shevet Yissochor. He suggested this, so that there would be no jealousy among the Nesi'im. And the Torah, in the same vein, lists the identical donations over and over again, to teach us the importance of brotherhood and love among fellow men.

With this demonstration of achdus, the Nesi'im actually corrected the fault inherent in their initial donation to the Mishkan. For when the Mishkan was being built and the contributions of Klal Yisroel were streaming in, the Nesi'im decided to wait and be the last ones. Then, they would donate whatever was missing. (Bamidbor Rabbah 12:19) However, in view of their very high spiritual status, they were faulted for this, as it demonstrated a minuscule amount of pride and rulership above the general klal. They received their punishment when, in the end, there was nothing remaining for them to bring.

We can apply this same concept to the topic of Yosef and his brothers. They too, according to their lofty madreigah, displayed a very fine-line hatred and harbored ill feelings between each other. Perhaps for this reason, Yaakov chose to learn the topic of agolos haMishkan with Yosef. He wanted to teach his son how important the concept of unity and brotherhood is. Its fundamental significance warrants such a lengthy listing of all the Nesi'im's contributions.

Now, in parshas Vayigash, we read how, after twenty- two painful years of separation, Yaakov is informed that the son for whom he has been grieving for all that time is still alive. Yet, the posuk does not immediately tell us that Yaakov's spirit was revived. Why? Yaakov feared that once the brothers would be reunited, the old sparks of envy and hatred would surface again. Could this be cause for happiness?

Yet once he saw the wagons -- the agolos -- that Yosef sent, Yaakov understood the deeper message: Yosef had indeed remembered the lesson of the agolos haMishkan, and had no intention of causing conflagration of any sort. On the contrary, Yosef's desire was to endeavor to cause the spirit of unity to rest between the brothers, in any and all manner possible. Only after Yaakov realized this, does the posuk state that his spirit was revived.


Perhaps one can suggest another reason why Yosef particularly sent wagons to his father.

The Medrash (Bamidbor Rabbah 12:19) teaches us that when the Mishkan was completed, the Nesi'im said, "Nothing is missing; what remains for us to donate?" Whereupon Nesanel ben Tzu'ar answered them, "Do you think the Mishkan which you have built will fly in the air (as it travels)? Donate wagons in which the Mishkan can be transported!" Thereupon, the posuk states, "And the Nesi'im offered" (Bamidbor 7:2).

With this contribution, they now demonstrated their regret for their previous lack of initiative. Yet, how did this contribution of the wagons truly rectify their not having previously come forth?

Also, the Medrash states that because Nesanel ben Tzu'ar suggested the idea of donating wagons, the Torah considers it as if he brought his korbon first and gives him special mention. Yet, what is so tremendous about this idea of agolos?

Perhaps Nesanel ben Tzu'ar wished to set forth a concept of leadership in Klal Yisroel. The Nesi'im must realize that they themselves are actually the wagons which carry the Jewish People. They shoulder the responsibility of the klal, as we see in the gemora: "Am I giving you leadership? I am enslaving you!" The Nesi'im should perceive themselves as the slaves of Klal Yisroel, who utilize all their faculties to benefit their people. They are not merely leaders who crave honor and glory, awaiting the show of kovod the people will accord them.

Thus, with their donation of agolos, the Nesi'im truly rectified their previous mistake of lording over Klal Yisroel. From now on, they wished to be the agolos of Klal Yisroel -- they would carry the people, instead of waiting for the people to carry them. The Shem Mishmuel adds that the Nesi'im are called by this very name, because they are nosei -- they carry -- the burden of the people.

This very same concept can be applied to our inyan of Yosef Hatzaddik. Years before, when Yosef told his brothers of his dreams, they had accosted him, "Do you think you will rule over us?" (Bereishis 37:8) And now, those dreams had finally been fulfilled, and Yosef actually was the ruler. There was true reason to fear that now, more than ever before, he would govern the brothers.

Yet, in truth, there was nothing to worry about. With the message of the agolos, Yosef was stating clearly, "I still remember the parsha of the Nesi'im's wagons. I have no intention of lording over my brothers. On the contrary, I honestly see myself in the position of being the agoloh -- the wagon -- that will carry the family. I will sustain them during the famine, and carry the burden of their support upon my shoulders."

We can thus understand why Yaakov's spirit was revived after he understood Yosef's messages. Yosef was harboring no hatred and had no intention of displaying his proud position. He was there to assist Yaakov and the Shevotim in every way possible. He recognized the opportunities which his powerful position availed him, and would take advantage to benefit his brothers. This is what made Yaakov's spirit come alive.

The above article appeared in the Elul, 5739 edition of the bi-annually published Kol Hatorah journal. It has been adapted and translated with permission.

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