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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5775

Parashat Hashavua: Beware of the Effect of the Path on the Halachic Path

Rabbi Daniel Mann

Yosef’s last instruction to his brothers as they embarked to tell their father of Yosef’s survival and to prepare the family to move to Egypt was, “Al tirgezu baderech” (Bereishit 45:24), perhaps best translated, “Do not be agitated on the path.” Rashi’s final explanation is perhaps the simplest one (the Ibn Ezra concurs) – they should not fight during their trip over responsibility for the sale of Yosef.

Rashi also cites the gemara (Ta’anit 10b) that he was warning not to get involved in the study of halacha, with the apparent reason being that this could negatively affect the journey. Rishonim point out that the midrash says the opposite: they should study halacha along the way. The gemara actually distinguishes – they should learn straightforward halachot but not delve into halachic analysis. Anyone who has merited taking part in halachic analysis knows that one who appreciates it can become oblivious to his surroundings, which could indeed cause delays or expose him to dangers along the way.

The Kli Yakar raises the possibility that the issue might not be Torah study’s impact on the journey, but the journey’s impact on Torah study. By “running with” this latter approach, we can connect the two explanations we cited from Rashi. While it is proper to be involved in Torah in almost all states of mind, one should be careful to engage in weighty halachic matters only in the right state of mind. For example, while it is permitted to learn Torah when mildly “under the influence,” he may not render halachic rulings in that state. When one is on the road, he is likely to be unable to concentrate well enough to arrive responsibly at the deeper, finer points of scholarship.

If the above is always true (one could claim it was exacerbated by the brothers’ emotional state), why does the Torah teach us this idea in the context of Yosef and his brothers? Let us suggest that Yosef was sending a message to his brothers. Certain decisions, especially complex, high-staked decisions, require perfect conditions in order to ensure that they are done correctly. One example was the practical lessons (e.g., who was at fault and what price should he pay) to be learned from the sale of Yosef, as they returned to inform their father that Yosef was rediscovered. They should not quarrel on the way, where they were not equipped to decide anything responsibly.

Perhaps Yosef was also hinting at his brothers’ decision to kill or sell him decades before. They indeed did not employ a responsible process for such a weighty decision. They judged Yosef even though they were interested parties. They made a hasty decision on the road. And, while ten of them took part, two really convicted Yosef while eight were afraid to oppose them (see Rashi, Bereishit 49:5). This is similar to group learning on the road. There is no room to sit down and discuss together. Rather, two travelers who are riding near each other are likely to decide things among themselves and inform the others of their conclusion. Yosef warned that such rulings must cease.

As those who value Torah-based decisions, we must always strive for a halachic process done with care that everything that can contribute to wise and just rulings and decisions has been employed.

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