Vayigash: Eternal Bond
When Joseph left him, Jacob knew with which chapter of study he had left him, for he was teaching him. When Joseph’s brothers came and said to him, “Joseph is still alive”, his
heart stood still, for he could not believe them. Jacob thought to himself, “I know that Joseph left me during the study of the chapter dealing with the subject of the beheaded heifer (Egla Haarufah)”, so he said to them, “Let him give me a sign regarding which subject we were studying, then I will believe you.” Joseph too remembered what they were studying. So what did he do? He gave them wagons (Agalot). When Jacob saw the wagons, it immediately states, “The spirit of their father Jacob was revived.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayigash #11)
What made Jacob’s spirit revive? Was it the irrefutable proof that Joseph was indeed alive, being that nobody else could have guessed the topic they were studying right before Joseph was tragically torn away from him? Was it the assurance that, despite living in Egypt, Joseph was still committed to a life of Torah? Or did Jacob’s spirit revive because the connection he shared with Joseph was being revived?
A person should not take leave of his friend except amid a discussion of a matter of Halacha, for by doing this he will remember him (Masechet Brachot 31a).
This is not a magical formula to guarantee impeccable memory of all the people one crosses paths with.
This is the reality created when two people share an experience that reaches beyond who they are as limited individuals. When I learn Torah with someone, it is not simply about me and the other person; it is about the bond that we partake of at that moment, a bond that will last for eternity.
When Jacob sees the sign sent by Joseph, it rekindles the fire of Torah they had started over twenty-two years ago. Of course they both remember each other; of course they both recall the topic of their last study session. But what they really remember is the powerful connection they shared when they were learning together. The connection never died; it helped them survive their years apart. The wagons are a symbol of their eternal bond, and this is what makes Jacob’s spirit revive.