The Bible text does its best to describe the shock and trauma. Never to see one’s child again, never to see his face, never to accompany him through the years ahead… the father’s heart is torn, and to say that we feel for him is so inadequate.
The years pass. The sharp pain recedes, but the ache is always there. Then the unbelievable happens. In time of famine the other brothers go to Egypt for corn. Lo and behold, who is in charge of food distribution? None other than the long-lost Joseph.
He recognises them, but they do not recognise him. The stratagem he employs to test whether the years have improved their character brings a smile to our face. The story has every element of human drama.
Back they go to their old father. They cannot contain themselves: “Joseph is alive, and he is the ruler over all Egypt”. It is not just the magnitude of the news that makes him faint, but the feeling that this is some cruel trick.
Only when he sees the agalot, the wagons that Joseph sent to bring him to Egypt does Jacob believe that the report is true. Once more we feel for him, and we want to be with him as he braves the difficult journey to Egypt for the reunion (Gen. 45).
Rashi is understandably puzzled, as we all are, at why it is the wagons that persuade Jacob that his sons are not deceiving him once again. Is there some secret sign that the wagons represent? Is there a message in the wagons which Joseph knew his father would grasp?
The answer Rashi gives is that before Joseph’s disappearance the father and son had been studying together the laws of the eglah (a word connected with agalah, “wagon”), the heifer which was part of the procedure when an unidentified dead body was found (Deut. 21:6).
What we learn is not simply that Jacob and Joseph both vividly recall that last time they were together, nor that they are both studious people.
We discover that bonding between the generations comes from shared interests, especially if the interest is Torah. They become so much closer when they delve together into the text and tradition, and help one another to an understanding of the truth.