Vayigash -Survival of the Fittest
Jacob was overjoyed that Joseph was still alive. He now had the difficult task of bringing his family down to Egypt, knowing that he was not likely to return during his lifetime. When the family stopped in Be’er Sheva on their way to Egypt God communicated with Jacob and reassured him that He will not abandon Jacob’s family in Egypt but He would see to it that they return to Canaan. (Genesis 46:2-4)
After naming all of Jacob’s family who descended to Egypt the Torah tells us that Judah was sent ahead to Goshen to ‘prepare’ for their arrival. On the surface this could simply mean that Judah was sent to make the material arrangements necessary for the family’s arrival. After all, a party of 70 would require more than just a bowl of soup and few beds. Indeed, Rashi initially subscribes to this explanation. Judah was simply tasked with making the living arrangements for the family. The Midrash, however, later quoted by Rashi as an alternative explanation, sees an entirely different mission for Judah. Jacob sent him ahead to establish an academy of learning.
The Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah states: Rabbi Nechemia says: “To prepare for him a house of study where he could instruct Torah and where the Tribes could study the Torah….to teach you that every place that Jacob went he was involved with Torah just as his fathers were.
Of the three Forefathers Jacob is the one who represents night, darkness and exile. He lived his life in a state of constant exile and from his actions we see how he intended for his family and their values to survive in exile. Jacob knew that Egypt would not for long remain a friendly environment for his family. He also was keenly aware that Egypt fell short of the moral standards he expected his family to maintain. How could Jacob ensure his family would not be impacted by the corrosive influence of their surroundings? Jacobs grandsons would be citizens of ancient Egypt, taxpaying members of their host country. What would keep them loyal, in heart and in action, to their heritage as Israelites?
The Torah goes out of its way to inform us that Judah was sent ahead on a mission, to establish a place of instruction. Lehorot, the word used to describe Judah’s mission, translates as ‘instruct,’ and it also shares a common root with the word ‘Torah.’ Surviving materially would be a constant struggle regardless of their preparation. For now, Joseph would provide for them, but Jacob knew well that this would not continue indefinitely. But his concern was not dominated by their material survival. They would make it one way or another. He was concerned primarily with their spiritual state of being over the next generations. Jacob therefore made a priority of establishing an institution wherein Torah would be studied and from which Torah would be disseminated.
The halacha states that one of the priorities for a community is an infrastructure for education. Before a community builds a shul they must build a school, and one’s charity should first go to supporting Torah study before it supports other causes. If there is no Torah study in a community its hope for long term survival is tenuous. It is tragic when a a community cannot muster the resources for Torah education and it is a compounded tragedy when people fail to take advantage of opportunities for Jewish education that are available.
We live in a different exile. We don’t struggle to maintain our belief in monotheism in contrast to paganism, although some people struggle to maintain any belief. We certainly are influenced by a moral code which is lower than a Torah ideal. The tools to fortify ourselves remain the same across the ages. Study of Torah as part of our own routine and incorporating it into the routine of our children is the single tried and true method of keeping our faith alive. Materially we will find a way to survive. To hold our ground spiritually we need to plan ahead just as Jacob did.