By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
During Yaakov’s final years, his family is united harmoniously
in Egypt. VAYIGASH ended with a description of how the family took up
residence in the foreign land of Eygpt. The process was initiated by Yosef:
And Yosef settled (VAYOSHEV) his father and his brothers, and he
gave them a possession (ACHUZAH) in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land,
in the land of Ramses, as Pharaoh had commanded (Bereishit 47:11).
Not surprisingly, Yosef’s project is successful:
And Yisrael settled (VAYESHEV) in the land of Egypt in the land
of Goshen; and they gained possession (VAYEI’ACHAZU) in it, and they were
fruitful and multiplied very much (verse 27).
Yosef settles them (indicated by the causative verb form
VAYOSHEV) and they become settled (VAYESHEV). He provides them with land of
their own and they put down roots and thrive there.
As VAYECHI opens, the focus shifts immediately and without the usual space (parashah)
in the text to the Patriarch Yaakov:
And Yaakov lived (VAYECHI) seventeen years in the land of Egypt;
and the days of Yaakov, the years of his life, were seven years and forty years
and a hundred years (verse 28).
These descriptions prepare us, both for the final days of Yaakov as well as for
the beginning of the fulfillment of Hashem’s prophecy to Avraham:
You shall surely know that your descendants will be strangers in
a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will oppress them for
four hundred years (15:13).
What do these verses depict about this transitional chapter in the history of
the Jewish people?
Ohr HaChaim (R. Chaim ben Moshe ibn-Attar, 1696-1743) charts the different names
of the Patriarch, which indicate two different emotional and spiritual states:
• "Yisrael" connotes a higher sanctity, engendered by
tranquility, serenity and wholeness, as well as dominion.
• "Yaakov" is fraught with worries and insecurity.
Yaakov’s life fluctuated between these two poles. After Yosef’s disappearance,
the name "Yaakov" is used, except for when necessity requires him to act as a
leader (43:6, 8, 11). Once Yosef is discovered alive, "Yisrael" reappears, until
he receives the Divine decree of exile, when his name reverts to "Yaakov." In
Egypt, where the family is reunited, he is called "Yisrael", until he prepares
to die and then he is "Yaakov." As death approaches, his prophetic powers
increase, so he is once again called "Yisrael."
In fact, Yaakov always lived an uneasy life: he was born simultaneously with his
adversary Eisav, and he suffered because of Lavan, Dinah and Yosef. His only
years of tranquillity the only years he "lived" fully were when Yaakov lived
in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.
These years retroactively transform and validate his entire
and the days of Yaakov, the years of his life, were seven years
and forty years and a hundred years.
As our Sages said: “Anyone whose last days are spent in goodness
is considered as if all his years were spent in goodness” (Tanna d’vei Eliyahu
The ages of other Tzaddikim’s lives are stated in the usual order:
Sarah: one hundred years and twenty years and seven years
Avraham: one hundred years and seventy years and five years (25:7).
Yitzchak: one hundred years and eighty years (35:28).
But Yaakov’s age is stated differently: seven years and forty
years and a hundred years, because only his last years
Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz 1550-1619) refers to three reasons in
Bereishit Rabbah (96:1) for this passage being "closed" and uninterrupted:
1. As soon as Yaakov passed away the oppression began.
2. He wished to reveal the end of the oppression, but it was closed off from
3. All the troubles of the world were closed off from him.
Even though an entire week separates these readings, the lack of space in the
Torah scroll serves to connect the last verse in Vayigash and the first verse in
Vayechi, as though they were one:
And Yisrael settled in the land of Egypt in the land of Goshen;
and they gained possession in it, and they were fruitful and multiplied very
much. And Yaakov lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt . . .
Three results may be seen in the three ideas expressed in the Midrash:
1. While Yaakov was still alive, his merit enabled his family to
succeed: they were calm and at ease, and they became rooted in Egypt. Once he
dies, however, everything changes: from security to insecurity, from being land
owners to being slaves; even their reproducing was undermined.
2. On the other hand, the onset of the subjugation was the cause of Yaakov’s
death, for Hashem shortened his years so he would not witness the suffering.
Furthermore, Yaakov’s children knew that the final redemption would not come
during their lifetimes, so they did not pray for its coming. Hashem withheld
full disclosure of the end to minimize this spiritual damage to future
3. Yaakov’s final years caused him to forget all his troubles, and he lived a
There is an implied criticism of the family’s attitude toward their exile:
And Yisrael settled in the land of Egypt . . . and they gained possession in it,
and they were fruitful and multiplied very much.
The time of the redemption was withheld from Yaakov’s family
because they should not have become so comfortable in Egypt. They sought to live
with permanence in the place where they were meant to be strangers in a land
that is not theirs.
Kli Yakar concludes with an indictment of his own generation:
Nevertheless, many are the people who settle in foreign lands and build
themselves roofed and expensive stone permanent houses, and for this reason they
never plead before Hashem wholeheartedly to bring them to their land, and thus,
the Holy One blessed be He leaves them there.
Redemption will come when we desire it more than we enjoy the comforts of life.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The repetition of the term HaAretz - the Land - throughout this Parshah
conveys that in Yaacov's final hours, his biggest concern is to ensure
that his progeny will ultimately return to Israel. Perhaps the most
fascinating example is the famous, one-Passuk blessing which Yaacov
bestows on Yosef's two sons (Bereishit 48:16). The blessing includes "Brachah,"
entails the invocation of God's name, and features a blessing for
multiplication of offspring. But the Patriarch emphasizes that all these
wonderful blessings are attainable only in one country: "Bikerev HaAretz -
within THE Land - in Israel.
Yaacov refers to their multiplying by using the term "yidgu." This verb
appears nowhere else in TaNaCh. The commentaries are clear on the
implication of the word, the root of which is "dag," - fish; just as fish
cannot survive and multiply out of water which is their natural
environment, so too Yaacov's descendants are dependant on their natural
Throughout the modern world, the number of Jews is decreasing. Only in
Israel is there a constant growth.
History teaches that despite the creative diaspora communities,
irrespective of the wonderful Torah institutions in each center,
regardless of the intensity of observance, the influence of the
surrounding cultures ultimately prevailed. If there is one place where
there is hope that we can struggle and be victorious; where we may be able
to create an everlasting society reflecting the values of Avraham,
Yitzchak and Yaacov, Moshe and Chazal, it is only in Eretz Yisrael.
Rabbi Sender Shizgal, Jerusalem
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320