Vayigash/Siyum HaShas – The Secret to Our Survival

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayigash, after Yosef’s shocking revelation, “I am Yosef, is my father still alive?” (Bereishis 45:3), Yaakov and his family descend, en masse, to Egypt.  Yosef,  the Provider and Viceroy of Egypt (and the entire ancient Middle East), will sustain his family in the ensuing years of famine, and the family will live in Goshen. 

Before Yaakov descends to Egypt, the pasuk tells us: וְאֶת-יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו, אֶל-יוֹסֵף, לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו, גֹּשְׁנָה; וַיָּבֹאוּ, אַרְצָה גֹּשֶׁן – And Yaakov sent Yehuda before him, to Yosef, to show the way before him, to Goshen, and they came to the land of Goshen (46:28). 

What does לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו, to show the way before him, come to teach us?  Why did Yaakov send Yehuda to Egypt, to the region of Goshen, before him?

Rashi (ibid) teaches: להורת לפניו. כְּתַרְגּוּמוֹ, לְפַנּוֹת לוֹ מָקוֹם, וּלְהוֹרוֹת הֵיאַךְ יִתְיַשֵּׁב בָּהּ – As Targum Onkelos explains: to clear a place for him, and to instruct how he will settle in it. 

Alternatively, Rashi quotes the Medrashic interpretation: לפניו. קֹדֶם שֶׁיַּגִּיַע לְשָׁם. וּמִדְרַשׁ אַגָּדָה לְהוֹרוֹת לְפָנָיו – לְתַקֵּן לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד שֶׁמִּשָּׁם תֵּצֵא הוֹרָאָה – Before him – before he (Yaakov) would arrive there (in Goshen).  And the Medrashic interpretation (of להורת לפניו) is: to establish for him a house of study, a Beis Talmud, for from there, instruction (Torah) shall go forth

The phrase להורת לפניו, is understood as being from the same root as Torah, instruction.  Hence, להורת לפניו – Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of him to Goshen, to establish a yeshiva, a makom Torah, before Yaakov would even arrive in Egypt. 

From this teaching we learn about the eternity of our survival, and the secret of our endurance.  As Yaakov and his family prepare to leave their beloved Eretz Yisrael and descend to Egypt – where they will spend hundreds of years, going from an exile of comfort and acceptance to one of servitude and revulsion – the key ingredient for their success and survival is prepared before Yaakov even arrives: Beis Talmud, a house of Torah study. 

As our enemies all around us rear their ugly heads once again, we must remember that the only way we can, and will, survive as a nation is with dedication to Torah and mitzvos, come what may.  לֹא-יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ, וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה – This book of Torah shall not depart from your mouth; and you shall contemplate it day and night (Yehoshua 1:8). 

A story is told: In the early 1950’s, life in Eretz Yisrael was difficult.  It was a time of deprivation and struggle for most.  Food was scarce and money even scarcer, and for the Holocaust refugees who had streamed into the country after the war, the challenges were even greater… With little or no luxuries in most people’s lives, Moshe Schreiber’s generous invitation to his entire Shul came as quite a surprise.  He was making a siyum on a Gemara, and it promised to be a grand affair with bountiful food and drink for all. 

The night of the siyum, the Schreiber home was filled to overflowing.  The table was laden with all sorts of delicacies.  “So, Moshe,” asked a guest, “what masechta (tractate) did you finish that merits such a siyum?  Maybe you finished Shas?”  “I finished Moed Katan,” Moshe replied.  The curious guests fell silent.  Moed Katan was one of the shortest masechtos in the Talmud. 

“It’s time for me to speak,” said Moshe.  “Let me share with you what this masechata means.  Like many of you here, I am a survivor of Auschwitz. So much happened there that I would like to forget, but there is one experience that I never want to forget.  There was a man who slept in the bunk on top of mine.  They called him Yosef ha’Tzadik, and this name was very fitting.  His lips were moving all day long, davening and saying Tehillim by heart.  He held onto Hashem at every moment. 

“At night, while I tried to fall asleep, I would hear him mumbling in bed.  I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but I assumed it was some kind of tefilah.  It was comforting to know that he was still holding on.  Sometimes his voice lulled me to sleep.  One night, Yosef whispered to me, ‘Moshe, listen,’ he urged.  ‘I need you to do something for me.  My time is coming to an end, and there’s something I need you to finish for me.’  ‘Don’t talk like that,’ I answered him.  ‘We all know the war is almost over.  The Germans are ready to give up.  Hold on, Yosef.  You’ll get out of here and go on!’

“‘I don’t have the strength to argue,’ Yosef replied.  ‘Just listen.  Every night, I learn Gemara by heart.  When I was a boy, I memorized a few masechtos and so I am constantly reviewing them.  This is what has kept me going, but I can’t do it anymore.  I have just started Moed Katan, and I am afraid I will die before I finish it.  Promise me, Moshe, that when you get out of here, you will finish Moed Katan for me.’ 

“By now, tears were streaming down my face.  I was awed by the holiness of this man.  We were in Auschwitz.  He was dying.  And he was bothered because he might not finish his masechta.  Of course, I agreed to his request.  ‘Thank you, Moshe,’ he said, ‘now I can die in peace.’

“And a few days later, he did.  I davened to Hashem to help me survive to that I could fulfill my promise.  I vowed that if I had the privilege of finishing Moed Katan, I would make a grand siyum to celebrate – not just the completion of the masechta, but the magnificent spirit of the Jewish people who cling to Hashem and Torah, no matter what.  Tonight is our victory, because the Nazis are gone and Torah lives.  It is a simcha for all of Klal Yisrael.”

Concludes the author, R’ Binyomin Pruzansky, “Indeed, every time a boy goes off to yeshiva to learn Torah, every time a blatt Gemara is learned, and every time a siyum is made, it is a victory and a cause for celebration for all of Klal Yisrael” (Stories that Light Up Your Heart, p.29-31).

As our nation, the world over, celebrates another collective Siyum Ha’shas B”H, let us remember the primary desire, goal and striving of Yaakov Avinu.  Before he arrived in exile, there had to be a Beis Talmud set up, שֶׁמִּשָּׁם תֵּצֵא הוֹרָאָה, for from there, Torah instruction goes forth.  And from there, our survival is guaranteed.

A heartfelt mazal tov to all the mesayemim, whether the siyum is as grand as the Siyum Ha’shas, or as “small” as Maseches Moed Katan!  For every word of Torah learned is a monumental achievement, a victory over the enemies of today, as well as the enemies of the past, and the secret to our tenacious survival throughout every galus. כי הם חיינו וארך ימינו.

May we merit that the zechus of Torah herald the ultimate geula, immediately and in our days.  כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-ה’ מִירוּשָׁלִָם (Yeshayahu 2:3). 

בברכת מזל טוב, בשורות טובות, ושבת שלום,


  • Rifka Saltz
    Posted at 13:11h, 02 January

    Beautiful. Written beautifully.

    Thank you.

  • Rachel Solomon
    Posted at 15:23h, 02 January

    What a beautiful story!