"Ten male donkeys laden with the best of Egypt [Rashi: "aged wine… a delicacy particularly enjoyed by the elderly"]and ten female donkeys laden with grain, bread, and food." (Gen. 45:23)

This gift was laden with symbolism:

...wine riding upon donkeys conveyed the idea that Egypt was subservient to the Jewish people...
  • The donkeys symbolized Egypt, which the prophet associates with the flesh of donkeys. 1 The wine symbolized the Jewish people, who are compared to wine. (Psalms 80:9) The image of wine riding upon donkeys conveyed the idea that Egypt was subservient to the Jewish people, who would eventually be able to redeem the holy sparks embedded in Egypt, as it is written, "And they drained Egypt [of its wealth]."2
    The wine thus also alluded to the four cups of wine that the Jewish people would drink in celebration of the redemption from Egypt. In this vein, the verse's three different descriptions of food: "grain," "bread," and "food" allude to the three matzos that are used during the Passover Seder and to the three foods eaten then: the Passover sacrifice, matzah, and the bitter herbs.3
  • Wine alludes to the secrets of the Torah, "a delicacy particularly enjoyed by the elderly," i.e., the wise. Joseph was thus hinting that through descending to Egypt, Israel would merit to receive "the wine of Torah" at Mount Sinai. In this context, the donkeys, the proverbial beasts of burden, symbolized the idea of accepting "the yoke of Torah," (Avodah Zara 5b) i.e. committing ourselves to study the Torah study beyond our natural inclination to do so based on the pleasure we derive from it. 4
  • The aged wine was wine that Joseph had stored in anticipation of his reunion with his father. By sending him some of this wine, Joseph indicated to his father that, although he foreswore wine the day they were separated, 5 he trusted in God that one day they would be reunited and even prepared wine for the occasion.
...we cannot give in to despair.

Joseph's faith serves as a model for the sort of faith we should have during our exile. Even when we find ourselves in a situation where the exigencies of exilic life distract us from our Divine mission, we cannot give in to despair. We must strengthen ourselves with absolute trust that God will grant us success in all our endeavors so that no worries will impede our adherence to the Torah and its precepts.

A CLOSER LOOK

When we choose a gift for someone, we generally select something that we assume the other person does not already have and will therefore especially appreciate. Since food was scarce during the famine, Joseph assumed that Jacob would probably not squander precious resources on foreign delicacies, such as Egyptian split beans. Aged wine, in contrast, was something that Jacob could well have still had from previous years, but Joseph assumed that if he and his brothers had foresworn wine since they had been parted, Jacob certainly did also. Thus, he sent him wine not only because it was a delicacy, but as a sign that the time for mourning was over.


Adapted from Likutei Sichot, vol. 10, p. 158, 159
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org