This week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, describes how Joseph reunites with his brothers. He tells them “Go back to Israel, tell our father Jacob that I am alive and well. All of you should move here to Egypt, where I will take care of you.”
As they are headed to Israel, Jacob sends Judah ahead of the entourage to set up a school in Egypt for the family. (Gen. 46:28) Why did Jacob find it so necessary to ensure that a school would be set up even before they had arrived?
The Rabbis explain that Jacob was concerned for his family’s future. Until now they had lived together in Israel, taught by Jacob about their Jewish beliefs, undeterred by the society around them. Now they were about to enter a foreign country whose value system is totally abhorrent to the ideals set forth by the Torah. What would guarantee to Jacob that his offspring would adhere proudly to their heritage even while living in the midst of a foreign country? For this reason Jacob sent Judah on this mission to ensure that immediately upon their arrival in Egypt, their Jewish education would continue, offsetting any immediate impact of the surrounding society.
Many Jews across all denominations are concerned about the future of the Jewish people. So many of our brethren are ignorant of their sacred heritage and assimilate into society around them. The Torah here is indicating to us the antidote to this terrible problem: Jewish Education. Someone who knows his roots and the principles that guide them, will cling proudly to them and grow in his Jewish beliefs.
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, one of the great Torah Scholars of the previous generation, was a Rabbi in Seattle in the late 1930’s. He remarked that as he traveled to Seattle by train he stopped in Fargo, MD and spent Yom Kippur there. One would hardly consider Fargo a Jewish city, yet at the time the city was teeming with Jews and boasted a lively Jewish community that had many synagogues, stores, etc. Yet, today there remains nothing of what was eighty years ago. He attributed that to the fact that there were no Jewish schools to educate the youth so the next generation totally blended into American society and abandoned their religion.
As we teach our children all about our great heritage, let us realize that we aren’t just teaching them how to live a fulfilling life; we are ensuring the continuity of our great nation. Shabbat Shalom!