[Due to my going on Encounter at the end of the week, my parsha post was delayed]
This week’s parsha marks the end of the Yosef narrative (though he is still alive and present in at least one important scene in next week’s parsha too), where he is finally reconnected with his family, and, perhaps most importantly, with his father. There is an interesting verse when the brothers return to Yaakov/Yisrael where at first he does not believe their reports that Yosef is alive, but then when he sees the wagons that Yosef sent along, he suddenly knows that Yosef is truly alive. What do the wagons symbolize to change Yaakov/Yisrael’s mind like that? Rashi brings a midrash that claims that it was Yosef’s way of telling his father he was still alive, because the last thing that Yaakov/Yisrael had been doing with Yosef before he was sold into slavery was learning the laws of Eglah Arufah – an obscure law about breaking a calf’s neck, which is similar in Hebrew to the word for ‘wagon.’ Unsurprisingly, the Rashbam is not satisfied with this midrashic explanation, and seeks a more straightforward answer. He finds it in the customs of the land of Egypt, as noted by the Gemarah (ּBerachot 28b), where it says that no one was allowed to bring cattle out of the land of Egypt except with permission of Pharaoh. Thus, when Yaakov/Yisrael sees the wagons being carried by cattle, he knows that only someone with the favour of Pharaoh could have sent them, and so he believes his son’s story, that Yosef is second in command in Egypt.
Sending of wagons
As a symbol to father:
I am still alive