Getting Our Priorities Straight

V’es Yehudah shalach l’fanav el Yosef l’horos l’fanav Goshnah… (Bereishis 46:28)

After a tumultuous roller-coaster of events, Yaakov’s sons returned to Canaan and informed him that his beloved son Yosef, whom he had assumed was dead for 22 years, was in fact alive and prospering in Egypt. Astonished by the remarkable turn of events and in spite of his advanced age, Yaakov prepared himself and his family for the lengthy journey to Egypt in order to be reunited with Yosef.

As they drew near to the section of Egypt called Goshen, our verse tells us that Yaakov sent his son Yehudah ahead of him to prepare for him the way. Rashi explains that “preparing for him the way” refers to Yaakov’s instructions that Yehudah establish a house of study where he would be able to learn and teach Torah. Considering Yaakov’s age and all that he had recently experienced, did this really need to be his highest priority? Shouldn’t he have first focused on getting reunited with Yosef and comfortably settling his family into their new homes?

The Shelah HaKadosh derives from Yaakov’s actions and priorities that wherever a person goes, he should first ensure that his spiritual needs are in place and afterward attend to his more mundane concerns. Although Yaakov clearly had a number of important tasks to attend to on his momentous journey, the Torah records his focus on establishing a house of study prior to his arrival to show us his true priorities so that we may learn from them.

Harav Moshe Feinstein writes that the biggest mistake made by the early immigrants to America was that they were so focused on trying to make a living that they neglected to make time to set up schools to provide a religious education to the next generation. As a result, thousands of Jewish children weren’t given an opportunity to be properly educated about their religious heritage.

Now that we understand the value of taking spiritual considerations into account when making life decisions, we can appreciate the following anecdote: The Stropkover Rebbe was once purchasing an apartment and narrowed the choices down to two. Each of them had various aesthetic and practical pros and cons, and it was difficult to decide which of them was superior. Ultimately, he chose the apartment that had exactly 26 steps (the numerical value of Hashem’s Name) ascending to it, as that would allow him to remember Hashem every time that he entered or exited his home.

Although the level of spiritual sensitivity depicted in this story is clearly beyond us, its lesson is still applicable. We all make daily decisions concerning our homes, our jobs, and our families. When evaluating the different options, we should learn from Yaakov the importance of trying to view the world through a more spiritual lens and taking that perspective into account when making our decisions.

 Q: As he drew near to the land of Goshen in Egypt, Yaakov sent his son Yehudah ahead of him to prepare for him the way (46:28). Rashi explains that he sent him to establish a house of study where he would be able to learn and teach Torah. Why was Yehudah selected for this task instead of Levi or Yissachar, the patriarchs of the tribes traditionally associated with the study of Torah and producing Torah scholars?

 Q: Rashi writes (47:6) that Pharaoh told Yosef that if any of his brothers are capable, he would like them to serve as shepherds for his flock. How can this be reconciled with Rashi’s earlier comment (46:34) that because Egyptians worshipped sheep, they hated shepherds and would insist that because the brothers were shepherds they must live separately?

 A: Rabbi Eliezer Friedman explains that not every Torah scholar is fit to lead a yeshivah. Successfully running a yeshivah requires mesirus nefesh — a willingness to give up one’s own time and energy for the sake of his students. Rashi writes (43:9) that when Yehudah implored Yaakov to allow him to take Binyamin to Egypt, he said that if he failed to bring Binyamin back safely, he will have sinned to Yaakov in the World to Come, meaning that he was risking his entire spiritual future for the project.

When Yaakov saw the sense of devotion and responsibility that Yehudah demonstrated, he understood that he was suited to open and lead the yeshivah. Alternatively, Rav Leib Bakst suggests that while Levi and Yissachar may have been fit to lead the yeshivah, the establishment of the yeshivah could only be done by Yehudah, who possessed the attribute of royalty and was uniquely able to create an institution with the necessary strength and discipline to focus on Torah without any foreign elements.

 A:  The Ibn Ezra writes that the flock to which Pharaoh was referring consisted not of sheep, but of horses and mules. However, the Maskil L’Dovid points out that the Egyptians clearly possessed sheep, as evidenced by the fact that they gave their sheep to Yosef in exchange for food (47:17), and Moshe warned Pharaoh that the plague of dever would strike the Egyptians’ sheep (Shemos 9:3).

He suggests that the Egyptians only hated those who raised sheep to slaughter and eat them, but those who cared for them to fatten them were respected, and the Egyptians did so themselves. Alternatively, although all other Egyptians worshipped sheep and hated shepherds, Pharaoh viewed himself as a god who had no need to worship sheep and had his own flock.

The Moshav Z’keinim explains that they only prohibited the sheep from living and grazing in their midst, but at a distance from the communities they were permitted, and Yosef advised his brothers that by claiming to be shepherds they would be able to live separately in Goshen.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email