Rashi explains that Yaakov did not have Yehudah precede the rest of the family merely for a practical purpose. He sent Yehudah to Goshen to establish a Bais Ha’midrash from which Torah would emanate. Despite Yaakov Avinu’s original uncertainty, he was finally satisfied that Yosef was alive and well. The decision to leave his home and take his entire family to a country characterized by corruption and immorality was not an easy one. Nonetheless, Yaakov prepared for this sojourn in Egypt in a unique way. Indeed, his preparations should serve as prototype for us, wherever we may be, regardless of the spiritual landscape.
Why did Yaakov really go to such great lengths to establish the local yeshiva in Goshen prior to his arrival. Could he not have first settled in the land and then built the yeshiva? Horav Chanoch Ehrentrau, Shlita, responds to these questions based on an idea expressed by Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein z.l., The Talmud in Megillah 3a states that a walled city is technically labeled such, only if the wall was built first, before the city was populated. If the community, however, was settled first and then a wall was built, it is not halachically considered a walled city. What difference should the sequence of the process make?
Horav Epstein explains that when the city walls are built first, the residents are aware of their protective influence. Thus, they become dependent upon these walls. Indeed, without the walls they probably would not have settled in the city. In a city which was inhabited prior to the erection of its walls, however, the people do not feel totally dependent upon the walls for security. After all, they had lived there before the wall, and everything seemed to be fine. A city whose wall is not an integral part of the community’s mindset is not a walled city.
Horav Ehrentrau asserts that the protective wall of Jewry is the Torah. This is consistent with Chazal’s exposition on the pasuk in Shir Ha’Shirim, vnuj hbtuw “I am a wall.” This refers to the Torah. It is the source of our security and the mainstay of our continued existence. This idea must be imbued into the Jewish mindset.
When Yaakov sent Yehudah before him to Goshen, he was sending a message to all future generations. Not only would the Torah continue to be the source of their protection, but without Torah there would be no community, no settlement, and no existence. Had Yaakov allowed his family to settle the land and then build a yeshiva, they might have come to mistakenly believe that Torah is not an integral part of the protective wall which sustains them.
We may suggest that this idea is the underlying reason that a makom Torah, place of Torah study, is referred to as an “ohel,” tent. We find numerous examples of this concept in the Torah. The most notable is Yaakov, who was a “yoshev ohalim.” This characterization refers to the time Yaakov spent studying in the tents of Torah. A tent is not a permanent edifice. It is temporary and designed to move from place to place. When one studies Torah, he is erecting a protective wall around himself, sheltering himself from the adverse effects of the harsh environment. This wall moves with the individual wherever he goes, as long as he studies Torah. Without the wall of Torah, he is in danger of being exposed directly to the external elements which may be detrimental to his very existence.