In the Torah portion of Vayigash, we read that Yaakov “saw the agalos [the wagons] that Yosef had sent to transport him; the spirit of their father Yaakov was then revived.”1

The Midrash notes2 that the wagons were a sign sent by Yosef to his father, Yaakov; should Yaakov not believe that he was still alive, his brothers were to relate the following message: “When I left you… we were studying the portion of Eglah (a word related to agalos) Arufah ,” dealing with the “decapitated calf.”

The Midrash goes on to explain the next verse, wherein Yaakov said: “This is indeed much; my son Yosef is still alive!” Comments the Midrash : “Indeed, much is the strength of Yosef my son; he has experienced so much travail and still maintains his righteousness.”

The Midrash is obviously explaining3 that Yaakov’s statement, “my son Yosef is still alive!” refers not only to Yosef’s being physically alive, but spiritually alive — still living a life appropriate for a son of Yaakov.4

Since the Midrash juxtaposes the sign that Yosef gave Yaakov regarding the fact that he was physically alive with the fact that he was also spiritually alive, it follows that the two are related.

Simply stated, the very fact that Yosef remembered the section in Torah that he was learning with his father 22 years previously is the strongest indicator that he hadn’t forgotten the Torah, and was still righteous.5

This matter requires further elucidation. Understandably, the sign that Yosef gave Yaakov proving that he was still alive related specifically to the message that he was vitally alive, spiritually as well as physically. How was this conveyed by mentioning the portion of the decapitated calf?

The section of the decapitated calf reads as follows:6 “When a corpse is found… in the field, and it is not known who the murderer is…. Your elders and judges must go out…. The elders of the city closest to the corpse must then bring the calf….”

In a spiritual context, a “corpse” refers to one who has ceased cleaving to G‑d, the source of life, as the verse states:7 “You who are cleaving to the L-rd your G‑d are all alive today.” The reason for the corpse-like state is that the person is “lying in a ‘barren field’ ” — he finds himself in a spiritual wasteland rather than in the “house” of living Judaism.

The Torah then exhorts the elders and judges to do everything in their power to see that such a state of affairs does not come to pass by teaching and providing their fellow Jews with protection against all the spiritual dangers that lurk in the “field.”

We can now understand the inner reason why Yaakov was studying this particular Torah portion with Yosef before the lad descended to Egypt — something that was known to G‑d, and thus at least unconsciously felt by Yaakov in his soul’s essence, that part that always is one with G‑d. Yaakov saw fit to study this portion with him because Egypt was the “abomination of the earth,”8 and Yosef was to be a captive there.

At that time it was necessary to give Yosef an additional measure of spiritual fortitude so that he could remain righteous even in Egypt. Yaakov thus studied with him the portion wherein the elders provide for the spiritual needs of the Jewish people so that they will be able to remain spiritually alive even while in the “field.”

Thus, when Yosef sought to show Yaakov that he was still spiritually alive, he employed the sign of the Torah portion that they had studied together — the portion that enabled him to remain righteous even under the most difficult circumstances.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, pp. 222-224.