“And Jacob Sent Judah Ahead”

by Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald

As Jacob finalizes his plans to leave Canaan and reunite with his beloved son Joseph in Egypt, he sends a distinguished emissary ahead to prepare for the family ‘s arrival. In Genesis (46:28) we read, “V’et Yehuda sha’lach l’fah’nav el Yosef l’ho’roht l’fah’nav Gosh’na” and [Jacob] sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to prepare for him in Goshen.

The commentators try to determine exactly why, of all his sons, Jacob specifically selected Judah for this mission. They are also perplexed regarding the nature and purpose of Judah’s mission.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105, foremost commentator on the Bible) suggests an obvious reason for Judah’s mission. Judah is sent ahead to clear the area for his father Jacob, and to instruct the others how the territory should be settled before Jacob arrives there. Rashi’s explanation is eminently sensible, since farmers arriving in a new land need to know which land to designate for agriculture and which for pasture. However, since Jacob’s intentions were probably not entirely mercenary, some of our rabbis suggest that Judah was sent ahead to Goshen for a spiritual purpose: to clear Jacob’s future dwelling place of any objects associated with idolatry.

We shall return to discuss what other possible aspects there were to Judah’s mission, but first we need to clarify why it was that Judah was sent.

Some of the commentators conclude from the fact that the verse states that Judah was sent specifically “to Joseph,” to mean that it must have been necessary for Joseph to personally authorize all preparations. The reason that Judah was sent, was because it was he who had successfully “negotiated” with Joseph previously, winning the release of Benjamin. Also, since Judah was destined to be designated by Jacob as sovereign over his brothers, he is obviously the most qualified for this extremely sensitive mission.

This was not the first time that Jacob selected Judah to perform a critical task. It was in Judah’s hands that Jacob entrusted Benjamin, and he had proven himself to be extremely reliable. However, Judah had not always been considered trustworthy. In fact, Jacob had suspected Judah of foul play in the disappearance of Joseph (Genesis 49:9). But, when he heard that Judah had offered himself to remain a slave in Egypt in place of Benjamin, Judah was cleared of all suspicion and deemed worthy of this mission.

Some of the commentators suggest that Judah was sent because of the special relationship he had recently developed with Joseph. Joseph was so impressed at Judah’s preparedness to give up his own freedom in order to secure Benjamin’s release, that a special bond was established between the two. Judah’s special relationship with Joseph would hopefully aid the family in obtaining their needs in their new homeland, which required Joseph’s personal imprimatur. Moreover, the rabbis see Judah as the natural person to be selected since it was he who had begun the good deed by initially approaching Joseph on behalf of Benjamin (Genesis 44:18). Now he was given the opportunity to complete the good deed, fulfilling the Rabbinic dictum: “He who initiates a good deed should endeavor to complete it” (Jerusalem Talmud, Pesachim 10:5).

The Midrash (Kohellet Rabba 9:15) even suggests that it was not Jacob who chose Judah for this mission. Since the beginning of the verse is ambiguous (there is no subject), they suggest that it was G-d Almighty Himself who chose Judah, and inspired Jacob to designate Judah as a reward for the key role that he played in protecting Benjamin.

Not only do the rabbis offer many reasons why Judah was chosen to be sent to Joseph, they also differ with respect to the exact nature of Judah’s mission. Was Judah sent to Egypt simply to show his family how to settle there? The Radak (R’ David Kimchi, 1160-1235, of Provence, leading Bible commentator), Chizkuni (Chizkia Chizkuni, 13th century commentator, probably from France) and the Akeida (Isaac Arama, 1420-1494, Spanish commentator) all suggest that Judah’s mission was to ask Joseph to provide Jacob’s family with an Egyptian guide who would take them directly to Goshen, so they wouldn’t have to pass through the populated areas of Egypt. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888, the great Bible commentator and leader of German Jewry) suggests that the reason for the guide was to help his family avoid charges of “separatism.” Having the royal guide take them to Goshen would not be seen by the Egyptians as unfriendliness on the part of Jacob’s family.

Perhaps the best known reason given for Judah’s mission is cited by Rashi in an alternate comment based on the root of the Hebrew word “l’ho’roht,” which means to teach or instruct. Rashi suggests that Judah was sent ahead of the family to establish a house of study for Jacob from which instruction shall go forth.

Our sages see this as a profound lesson, underscoring Jacob’s fierce determination that not a single moment of Torah study be wasted. He therefore dispatched Judah to establish a house of study. As soon as Jacob arrived in Goshen he and his family would be able to resume their Torah studies without any further delay. This, of course, also highlights the centrality of Jewish education in Jewish life. It is for this reason that schools are always among the first institutions to be established in newly developing Jewish communities.

An historical note: After the battles of the Yom Kippur war, Israeli troops were camped on the Northwestern side of the Suez Canal. This area is considered the location of the ancient land of Goshen. Therefore, for a brief while, a group of religious soldiers set up a Yeshiva there, which they called the “Yeshiva of Goshen.”

May you be blessed.