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People of the Book

People of the Book

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Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen . . . — Genesis 46:28

This Torah portion for this week is Vayigash, which means “and he approached,” from Genesis 44:18–47:27, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 37:15–28.

There’s an old joke that poses the question: Why did Moses and the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years when the actual distance between Egypt and the Promised Land was very short? The answer: Because men refuse to ask for directions! While this may be true of some men, Scripture tells us that as Jacob and his family approached Egypt, he sent Judah ahead “to get directions to Goshen.”  

So it’s true — wise men do ask for directions!

But other than proving this point, why was this detail included in the Bible? We know that not one detail mentioned in Scripture is superfluous. Every word and every letter has meaning and a message for us. What’s the message in this?

The Jewish sages point out that the Hebrew word for “get directions,” l’horot, is related to the word Torah (our directions for life). Therefore, say the sages, Jacob wasn’t just sending Judah ahead to get directions; he was sending him to prepare a place to study Torah. Such is the importance of learning to the “the people of the Book.” No place can be called home unless it is a place where people will study the Word of God.

Every morning, Jews read a selection from the Talmud which lists what a person can do to earn reward in this world and the afterlife. Among them are honoring one’s parents, doing acts of kindness, visiting the sick, praying with fervor, and several other honorable actions. Yet the passage ends with this: ” . . . . and the study of Torah is equal to them all.”

How can that be? Is sitting inside a study hall pouring over ancient texts really better than visiting the sick?

The answer is yes. Because the more we study the Bible, the more we will engage in all those virtuous deeds. Torah is often compared to water. Just as water makes everything grow, Torah study makes us grow. It turns us into more caring, kinder, godly people. As the psalmist wrote, “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). Scripture enlightens us and teaches us how to live.

This verse reminds us of how important it is to make Bible study a consistent and integral part of our lives. We may already know this, but implementing it is something else. Life is busy with many things to do. But as this verse teaches, the more we study, the more we will be busy with the right kinds of “things.”

Hebrew Word of the Day

January 5, 2017

— People of the Book

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