Parshat Vayigash tells how Jacob, his children and grandchildren all get ready to move down to Egypt. And the verse says that Jacob sent his son Yehudah ahead to make preparations for their arrival. The word for preparation is “L’horot” – related to the word Torah. In other words, Yehudah went ahead to set up a yeshiva, a school of Torah study.

Here we see the primacy of Torah study. Judaism without Torah is like a body without a soul, devoid of its most essential lifeline. Indeed, the Talmud says that “Torah scholars bring peace to the world.” That’s because the goal of Torah study is to develop caring, thinking human beings, who honor every person as created in the image of God. Torah scholars, therefore, are role models of peace whose influence radiates outward and affects, ultimately, the whole world.

Though there was a time when American Jewry largely disregarded the value of Torah study, the tide is now turning. The recent emergence of “community kollels” is raising the standard of commitment, and leaders from across the Jewish spectrum are proclaiming that Torah study is crucial to preserving Jewish identity. In the words of the leader of the American Reform movement:

“Only education rooted in commitment to God, Torah, and mitzvah will succeed; nothing else in the 3,000-year history of the Jewish people has ever worked.”

That idea is right here in this parsha – when Jacob sent Yehudah to open a Torah academy, laying the foundation of Jewish life in Egypt.


Rabbi Ken Alter