The Need For a Place of Torah Study Wherever We Go
It is written, “He sent Judah before him to Joseph, to prepare ahead of him in Goshen” (Genesis 46:28). Rashi gives two explanations for why Jacob sent Judah before him: (1) To clear a place for him and to show him how to settle in it; and (2) To establish for him a house of study, from which Torah teachings would emanate (Tanhuma Vayigash 11 and Bereshith Rabba 95:3).
This is somewhat surprising. First of all, why did Jacob send Judah to prepare a place for him, since he could have assigned Joseph to do that for him? After all, Joseph was already living in Egypt, and it would certainly have been easier for him than for Judah, who lived in Canaan.
Secondly, why did Jacob want to prepare this place? Given that Joseph had already asked his father and the entire family to come to Egypt, it is obvious that he had already prepared a place for them. This included a place for study, since Joseph had sent his father agalot (wagons) to remind him that when they last saw one another, they were studying the passage on the egla (heifer) that is beheaded (Bereshith Rabba 94:3; 95:3; Tanhuma Vayigash 11). Since Joseph governed the entire land of Egypt – the perversion of the whole earth – all while remaining connected to the Torah and mitzvot, and since he had not profaned the covenant of circumcision, why did Jacob not trust him enough to prepare a place where he could teach Torah? Why did he send Judah instead?
Jacob had heard of the greatness and righteousness of Joseph, and the Holy One, blessed be He, had even told him, “Joseph shall put his hand upon your eyes” (Genesis 46:4). Nevertheless, since it is written, “Do not be sure of yourself until the day you die” (Perkei Avoth 2:4), and since what can be discerned from a person’s reputation is not the same as seeing him in person, it seems to me that as long as Jacob had not personally witnessed Joseph in his righteousness, his conduct in the home, and the education of his children, he did not want to entrust him with preparing a place of Torah for him, nor a place for them to live according to his own principles. Even if Joseph was his favorite son, the principle characteristic of Jacob was truth.
True, Jacob could have waited until having met Joseph to see if he was still righteous, at which point he could have asked that he prepare a place for Torah and a dwelling place for them. Jacob did not want to do this, however, because his troubles with Joseph all began because he had wanted to settle down in peace and tranquilly (Bereshith Rabba 84:3). Thus Jacob did not want to wait in order to ask Joseph to prepare these places for him, lest in the meantime his sons and grandsons would want to live in peace and tranquility under the protection of Joseph, the ruler of the land. Hence Jacob wanted to prevent a neglect in Torah study from occurring.
This is why Jacob guided his sons and grandsons in the concept that we must not live in peace in this world, but instead we must study Torah at each instant. He therefore immediately sent Judah to prepare a place for him before they arrived in Egypt, in order for them to be ready upon arriving and begin studying without delay.
From personal experience, Jacob was familiar with Judah’s righteousness and greatness, and he trusted him to prepare a place for them to live and study Torah according to his own principles. This is why it is stated that he sent Judah “before him” (Genesis 46:28), for him to do everything according to his own principles. It would be a place to dwell where everyone could live together and be near Jacob, and where they would be united and could ensure that none of them mixed among the Egyptians. He also had to prepare a place for Torah that was near their dwellings, much in the same way that Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma stated, “I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah” (Perkei Avoth 6:9). That is, a place of Torah had to be close to where they lived. Nevertheless, Jacob could not trust Joseph in this matter. Although he prepared a place according to the principles that his father had instilled in him as a youth, Jacob could not trust him before having closely examined his spiritual state.
We may add that by sending Judah before him, Jacob was hinting to his sons and grandsons that before leaving the Holy Land to go into exile, a place of Torah had to be prepared first. This was to prevent them from thinking that they could go and rest easily under the protection of Joseph, the governor of Egypt. Rather, already in the middle of their journey and even before having arrived in Egypt, Jacob sent Judah before him to prepare a place for Torah study in order that everything would be ready as soon as they arrived.
Jacob made them understand that they were not exchanging an ox for a donkey, meaning the Holy Land for such an impure land as Egypt. It was true that they going down to Egypt, for there was a famine in the land of Canaan and it was Hashem’s will that they should descend into Egypt and that the exile begin. In any case, if they did not want to feel that they were in exile, they had to study Torah and prepare for themselves a place of Torah next to their dwellings upon their arrival, a place already established and set up.
Similarly, Jacob let his children know that his consolation over the grief of having to leave the Holy Land – the place where Hashem dwelled – was the yeshiva, a place of Torah that had been prepared before their arrival. It was only by toiling in the Torah in all places, despite their exile, that the Children of Israel could arise from the exile and become a people that differed from all the rest, “a people that dwells levadad [alone], and among the nations shall not be reckoned” (Numbers 23:9). The word levadad has a numerical value of 40, recalling the 40 days in which the Torah was given to Moses. When Jews study the Torah that was given in 40 days, they become “alone” in the sense that no other nation can harm them, and they do not mix among the nations. When Jews have no regard for the culture of the other nations, they suffer no harm, neither from their weapons nor from their influence. From here we learn that we must always prepare a place of Torah wherever we go, for it is our life preserver in every place and at all times.