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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: The Fight Against Assimilation

Harav Yosef Carmel

On the eve of Bnei Yisrael’s journey to Egypt for an undetermined (but not short) time period, Yaakov took the following step: “[Yaakov] sent Yehuda before him to Yosef l’horot (to show?) before him to Goshen, and they came to Goshen” (Bereishit 46:28). There are many explanations of the word l’horot. Rashi’s first explanation is to “clear the place and show how to settle there,” which seems to focus on technical preparations, including matters such as acculturation. Various other commentators bring similar ideas.

Rashi’s second explanation, based on a Midrash Aggada, is that he sent Yehuda to prepare a house of study, from which rulings would come forth. According to this, Yaakov was concerned with the spiritual needs of his family/nation and that he felt that Yehuda was the most qualified to carry this out. The Radak and Chizkuni explain that Yaakov was looking for a way to go to Goshen without having to pass through the heart of Egypt. The Abarbanel has a novel idea: Yaakov had already arrived in Goshen but sent Yehuda to tell Yosef precisely where he was, so that Yosef could come greet him.

We will, from this point, focus on Rashi’s second explanation. This journey to Egypt was destined to be the first exile of the Nation of Israel, and it thus had an important role in our history according to the thesis of ma’aseh avot siman labanim (the actions of the fathers are signs for the future of the descendants). Any embarking upon exile includes great spiritual dangers, as the gemara says, “Once Israel was exiled from their place, there is no greater loss of Torah study than that” (Chagiga 5b). However, it does not stop with a lowering of spiritual level but includes the danger of full assimilation, Heaven forbid. Yaakov, who succeeded in living with Lavan and fulfilling the 613 mitzvot, understood this and was proactive in protecting his people by founding a Torah center to protect the exiles from the 49 levels of impurity, which abounded in Egypt.

In our times, we are in the midst of a quiet national destruction, to our great dismay, with assimilation reaching 90% in certain places. Research has shown that two things can help stem the tide of assimilation in a community. One is to set up a Torah educational infrastructure that includes a high level advanced institution, which can stand as a light tower for the region’s Jewish community. Such an institution can warn about upcoming dangers on what seems to be “safe shores.” It also serves as a source of inspiration open to all. Only communities with the foresight to ensure that they have such an institution have weathered the storms well.

The second factor that has proven its efficacy is developing and continuing a strong connection to the State and Land of Israel. The more delegations of young people the community sends to Israel, the lower the level of assimilation locally.

Specifically at this time, after Chanuka, which features the fight against assimilation, let us encourage Jewish communities to follow the lead of Yaakov and fight off the dangers of exile. Let us encourage and aid in the building and maintaining of Torah centers in all places and strengthen the ties between Israel and the Diaspora.

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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim

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 to the memory of
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 ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld



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