Judah, a teacher in Goshen

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

SAN DIEGO — We read in parashat Va-yigash about Jacob and his sons reuniting with Joseph in Egypt. After revealing his true identity, Joseph brought his family there to escape the famine in Canaan. Joseph settled them in Goshen.

The Torah says: “[Jacob] …sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph, to point the way before him to Goshen.”

The Midrash asks: why did Jacob need to send Judah in advance of everyone else? They didn’t need a guide since they all knew the way. Why didn’t the entire family travel together?

The Midrash plays on the word l’horot, “to point the way,” for an answer. The word l’horot does mean “to point the way'” or “to show” but it can also mean “to teach.” (l’horot has the same Hebrew root as Torah, or “Teaching”.)

Using the meaning of “teaching,” the Midrash says that Jacob sent Judah ahead not to show the way for the rest of the family, but to establish a beit midrash, a house of study, in Goshen where Torah could be taught to the Israelites as soon as they arrived.

Jewish education is so important that the first thing that Jews are supposed to do when they settle in a new location is not build a synagogue, but rather a school. So important is Jewish study and learning, that Jews are discouraged from living in communities which do not have a place for their children to study.

One of the most critical pieces toward insuring Jewish continuity is making sure as many Jewish children as possible receive some form of Jewish education. Unless a Jew knows what it means to be Jewish and understands our history and faith, we can’t expect him/her to maintain their ties with the community.

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Rabbi Rosenthal is spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego.  He may be contacted via [email protected] 

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