This week’s Parsha begins with the statement “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt” (Bereishit 47:28). Rashi notes that the Parsha does not begin with a paragraph break in the Torah. Rashi explains that this suggests that as soon as Yaakov died, the “eyes and hearts of the Jewish people were closed” because of the suffering of the servitude which began after his death.
Rav Moshe Feinstien in his Darash Moshe poses two questions. Firstly, Yaakov was still alive at the beginning of the Parsha, so why is the allusion to the servitude placed here? Secondly, even after Yaakov died the servitude didn’t begin until Yosef and his brothers died, as is indicated by the first few Pesukim of Parshat Shemot. If the servitude didn’t start until much later, why does the Torah, at the beginning of Parshat VaYechi, connect it to the death of Yaakov?
Rav Moshe answers that Hashem started to find fault with the Jews for failing to appreciate that they were in exile. Even thought they lived in luxury, for Paroh treated them kindly, they should have realized that Hashem had not brought them to Egypt solely to enjoy it. During Yaakov’s lifetime, they missed the fundamental lesson that being under the jurisdiction of another nation is itself a great exile, even when that nation treats them with kindness. The Jews first recognized this important fact only after their father died, when they discovered that without Paroh’s permission they couldn’t bury Yaakov with his fathers. They then realized that they were in exile and suddenly became aware of its implications. Yaakov, however, had begun to feel the exile from the moment he left his home in Canaan to set out for Egypt. For this reason, he didn’t want to go to Egypt at all, in spite of the famine, until Hashem promised him “I shall go down with you to Egypt and I shall also surely bring you up” (Bereishit 46:4). The allusion to the exile at the hour of Yaakov’s death indicates that this was the factor that showed Bnei Yisrael that they had in fact been in exile the entire time they were in Egypt.
Rav Nissan Alpert, the great student of Rav Moshe Feinstein, offered his own reason why this Parsha is not set off by a paragraph break. He said that life can be unpredictable and mysterious, a “closed book,” its final chapter hidden from those in its midst. When people are in distress, they don’t know where their salvation will come from. Did Yaakov ever dream that these years in Egypt would be his best? Did he ever imagine that he would see the face of his son Yosef again? That Yosef would have remained righteous?
There were many such surprises. At the end of the day, there is a very good reason why the Hebrew word for world is Olam (Ayin Lamed Mem), which has its roots in the word Ha’Leim (Hei Ayin Lamed Mem), hidden.
Rav David Feinstein quotes the Gemara (Yoma 71a), which cites the Pasuk, “For they add to you length of days and years of life and peace” (Mishlei 3:2). The Gemara explains “years of life” to be a reference to the years of a person’s life that are changed from bad to good. A person who lives through hardships and suffering appreciates the pleasant years that may follow much more than a person who has known only peace. Yaakov appreciated his years of peace and quiet all the more so after his years of suffering.
The Torah teaches us this important lesson without ever writing a word about the message of appreciating life and learning from all of our experiences, even the bad ones. As we conclude Sefer Bereishit and scream out the words Chazak Chazak VeNitChazeik, may we strengthen ourselves and our commitment to Hashem with the knowledge that everything He does for us in in our best interest.