In last week’s Parashah, Parashat VaYigash, we read about Yaakov’s meeting with Par’oh, in which he blesses Par’oh and – for the first time – lets out his true feelings about the pain and sorrow he has gone through in his many years of life. Par’oh asks Yaakov only how old he is because he appears to be the oldest person Par’oh had ever seen. Yaakov responded by saying that he is not as old as his father and grandfather, but the years that he has lived have been horribly painful ones. In stark contrast, Parashat VaYechi shows us that Yaakov’s final years are unbelievably peaceful. He not only reunites with Yosef, his favorite son, but is able to see his son be one of the most powerful men in the world.
The idea of a Tzaddik living peacefully and prosperously toward the end of their days is not original to Yaakov; Sarah’s story is very similar. For her entire life, Sarah experiences troubles. She is kidnapped by Par’oh and tormented by her maid Hagar; on top of it all, she is unable to have kids. However, toward the end of her life, with just 37 years left, she gives birth to Yitzchak and is finally able to enjoy life completely. The Torah implies that during the last 37 years of Sarah’s life when she is able to experience motherhood, as she raises and marries off Yitzchak, she is truly happy.
A Rasha experiences life opposite the way a Tzaddik does. Resha’im spend their early years enjoying temporary pleasures, but when it comes time for their final years and their judgment in heaven, God is not so kind to them because they did not obey His commands in their younger years.
Bnei Yisrael’s history, as a whole experience, parallels a Tzaddik’s. This week, we observed Asarah BeTeiveit (the 10th day of the month of Teiveit), which commemorates the beginning of the Babylonian siege of Yerushalayim’s walls in approximately 587 BCE, and ultimately marks the beginning of the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. This day, along with most of the other fast days, commemorates dark times in Jewish history. Until today, the Jewish people have gone through more suffering than any other nation, starting with slavery in Mitzrayim, continuing with many persecutions and massacres such as the Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition and Expulsion, and most recently, the Holocaust. Even today, there is still anti-Semitism in the world, but fortunately much less than periods in the past. If one were to read an entire timeline of the history of the Jewish people, he would most like be horrified and upset; and yet, it doesn’t seem like the Jews have it so bad today, with anti-Semitism relatively infrequent, and enjoying sovereignty in their homeland. In spite of all the tragedies that Bnei Yisrael have gone through over their more than 3000-year existence, we still believe that at the end of all this, Mashiach will come soon and we will live more peacefully than we can imagine, even more so than today.
Yaakov is symbolic of the Jewish people because all of his life he has to go through tragedy and suffering, but at the end of his life he is brought to Eretz Goshen, reunited with his, son and lived the end of his life as happy man. Bnei Yisrael have gone and will go through tragedies, but all of them are merely steps leading up to Bi’at HaMashiach and all of us living peacefully.