Parashat Vayigash: “Stealing” Time for Torah
The Torah in Parashat Vayigash tells of Yaakob’s move from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt. As famine conditions prevailed in Eretz Yisrael, Yosef summoned Yaakob and his family to Egypt, where he would be able to provide for them. We read that as Yaakob made his way to Egypt, he sent Yehuda ahead "Le’horot Lefanav Goshena" – which literally means, "to show the way to Goshen."
Rashi cites the Midrash as interpreting this phrase to mean that Yehuda was sent to establish a "Bet Talmud" – a house of Torah study. This was Yaakob Abinu’s first order of business, so-to-speak, as he made this transition from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt.
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that the Egyptian exile, which began with Yaakov’s move to Egypt, encapsulated all subsequent exiles suffered by the Jewish Nation. It was the source and root of all future exiles which we suffered. And thus the Torah says in describing Beneh Yisrael’s suffering in Egypt, "Ha’yamim Ha’rabim Ha’haem" ("those many days" – Shemot 2:23). The word "Rabim" may be read as an acrostic for the words "Romi" (Rome), "Babel" (Babylonia), "Yavan" (Greece) and "Madai" (Persia-Medes) – thus alluding to the four major exiles our nation would suffer, which all have their roots in the Egyptian exile.
This explains why Yaakob’s highest priority as he made his way to Egypt was to set up a yeshivah. The Or Ha’hayim (Rav Haim Ben Attar, 1696-1743), in his commentary to Parashat Vayehi, writes that the final redemption will not come unless the Jewish People are involved in Torah learning. Torah study is the basic prerequisite for our redemption. And thus as Yaakob was about to set in place the exiles which his descendants would endure, he first set in place the source of their redemption – Torah learning.
The prophet Yeshayahu (1:27) declares, "Siyon Be’mishpat Tipadeh Ve’shaveha Bi’sdaka" – "Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her – with charity." Rav Yosef Haim Sonenfeld (1849-1932) noted that the first half of this verse – "Siyon Be’mishpat Tipadeh" – has the same numerical value as the words "Talmud Yerushalmi," and the second half – "Ve’shaveha Bi’sdaka" – has the same numerical value as "Talmud Babli." The secret to our return to Jerusalem lies in the rigorous, intensive study of Talmud. This might be the deeper meaning of Rashi’s comment that Yaakov sent Yehuda to establish a "Bet Talmud" – which could be understood to mean, "the two Talmuds." In his effort to put in place the source of Am Yisrael’s redemption, Yaakob ensured that there would be a place where the two Talmuds would be studied.
We must follow Yaakob Abinu’s example of making rigorous Torah study a top priority. Just as Yaakob turned his attention to this need before anything else, we, too, must be prepared to sacrifice other interests and pursuits for the sake of devoting ourselves to learning.
The Talmud famously teaches that when we arrive in the next world and stand in judgment, we will be asked the question, "Kabata Itim La’Torah" – which is commonly understood to mean, "Did you designate time for Torah?" Rav David Abuhasera of Nahariya, however, noted that the word "Kabata" may also be understood to mean "steal" (as in "Ve’kaba Et Kob’ehem" – Mishleh 22:23). We will be asked not simply whether we set aside time for Torah, but rather if we "stole" time from other pursuits for Torah. In order to delve into Torah, we need to "steal" time from somewhere. We are all very busy – with our jobs, families, friends, community, and personal interests. These are all important areas of engagement, but we need to "steal" some time from them for the sake of Torah study. Just as this was Yaakob Abinu’s highest priority, it must be our highest priority, as well. This is the secret of our nation’s redemption, and the key for the continued survival and strength of the Jewish People.