Parashat Vayigash- The Message of Goshen
The Torah in Parashat Vayigash tells of Yaakob Abinu moving with his entire family – all his children and grandchildren – from the Land of Israel to Egypt. We read that before Yaakob arrived in Egypt, he sent one of his sons, Yehuda, ahead, "Le’horot Lefanav Goshena" – "to show the way in front of him to Goshen" (46:28).
Rashi famously explains this verse to mean that Yaakob sent Yehuda ahead to establish a yeshiva. The word "Le’horot" can mean "teach" or "instruct," and thus this verse can be understood as saying that Yehuda was sent to establish a place of Torah learning and instruction. Yaakob understood that his family would survive in exile only if they had a firm Torah foundation in place, and so his highest priority, even before arriving in Egypt, was to establish of a house of study.
There may, however, also be an additional understanding.
Goshen was the region where Beneh Yisrael resided during their stay in Egypt. They lived separate and apart from the Egyptians, in their own designated region. The special quality of this region can be seen in a verse in Parashat Vaera (Shemot 8:18). As G-d warns Pharaoh of the fourth plague, the plague of Arob (a mixture of wild beasts), He announces, "Ve’hifleti Bayom Ha’hu Et Eretz Goshen Asher Ami Omed Aleha Le’bilti Heyot Sham Arob" – literally, "I shall set apart on that day the land of Goshen, in which My nation resides, that there shall be no Arob there." One of the holy books explains this verse to mean that G-d ensured that Goshen would be "set apart," remaining distinct from the rest of Egyptian society, such that there would be there no "Arob" – no "mixing" of values and cultures. As Goshen was where "My nation resides," G-d protected it from outside influences so that Beneh Yisrael would live insulated and protected, shielded from the alluring culture of Egypt which ran in direct contrast to Beneh Yisrael’s ideals.
Yaakob prepared for the Egyptian exile, which is the prototype for all future exiles, by ensuring "Le’horot Lefanav Goshena," to show the critical importance of Goshen, of separation and insularity, our nation’s remaining apart from the rest of society so it can preserve its values and traditions. Yehuda, who founded the tribe from which Mashiah would descend, was sent ahead to Goshen to show that our redemption depends upon our determination to follow the example of Goshen, of insularity, rather than mix with the surrounding culture.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 1:3) comments, "The home rests only on two things – wheat and oil." The plain meaning of this remark is that the basic needs of a home are food ("wheat"), and fire for light and warmth ("oil"). On a deeper level, however, the Rebbe of Bobov explained that "wheat" is used here as symbol of Torah, the basic spiritual sustenance of every Jew, and "oil" represents our separation and distinctness. Just as oil does not mix with water, but remains separate and withdrawn from water, Am Yisrael must likewise remain separate and apart from other nations in order to survive in exile. The foundation of every Jewish home consists of these two elements – Torah, and a commitment to insularity, to protecting ourselves from the foreign influences around us. Indeed, the combined Gematria (numerical value) of "Hitta" ("wheat," 22) and "Shemen" ("oil," 390) is 412 – the Gematria of the word "Bayit" ("home").
Of course, in later generations, this became a far greater challenge than it was in Egypt, where our ancestors lived in Goshen, separate and apart from the rest of Egyptian society. And this has become especially difficult in our day and age, when foreign culture has become so pervasive and is available at all times on our devices. Let us rise to this great challenge and do what we can to follow the model of Goshen, to build our homes upon strong foundations of Torah and insularity, so we can preserve our values, our traditions, our lifestyle and our special sanctity, and thus be worthy of the end of this long and difficult exile, speedily and in our days, Amen.