The wagons (agalos) that Yosef sent back with his brothers to their father (Beraishis 45:27) were intended to convince Yaakov it was indeed Yosef who was the effective ruler of Mitzrayim. They were, as Rashi there explains, a pun-hint to what Yosef and Yaakov were speaking of when they last saw one another, 22 years earlier.
The subject of that discussion was the law of “egla arufah,” the ritual performed when a person is discovered murdered outside a city. Yaakov had, back then, accompanied Yosef as he went looking for his brothers, and explained that the law of egla arufah implies the importance of escorting someone who is going on a journey.
The agalos were meant to conjure egla, which means “calf,” as the ritual involves dispatching one.
Why, though, use a pun? Why didn’t Yosef simply send a calf to his father? Wouldn’t that have been a more effective means of identifying himself?
There may, though, have been a deeper message in the agalos. The root of the word is “wheel.” It might thus imply, for lack of a better phrase, the closing of the circle of justice, as we colloquially say, “what goes around comes around.” The circle is the most perfect simple shape, and can be seen as representing the resolution of all that seems discordant or incomprehensible.
As the ancient proverb has it: “The millstones of G-d grind slowly but exceedingly fine.” And millstones, of course, are round.
When Hillel saw a skull floating in a river, he said :” Because you drowned others, they drowned you. And in the end, those who drowned you will be drowned” (Avos 2:6). Obviously, not every drowned person had drowned someone else. Hillel’s statement is a conceptual declaration, namely, that ultimate justice is assured. And perhaps significance lies in the fact that what he spied was a skull, a gulgoles, literally “something round.”
So Yosef’s message to his father in the identifying hint he sent, may have been: “All has turned out fine, despite my travails; my brothers and I are reconciled, and not only has the family circle not been broken, our lives have come… full circle.”
© 2021 Rabbi Avi Shafran