Ya’akov is anxious. Frightened. Scared. He is about to leave Israel, the land he knows is his one true home, and depart for the depraved environment of Egypt. Ya’akov has been in this position before, when he departed Beersheva for Charan. Then, the angels appeared to him, descending on the ladder, reassuring him that he would be Heavenly escorted.
Now, Hashem comes to Ya’akov—for the first time in 22 years, since his son Yosef was abducted—in a “vision of the night,” and promises him, “Anochi eyred imcha Mitzrayma, v’anochi a’alcha gam aloh, I will both descend with you into Egypt, and also raise you back up (to the Land of Israel).” Ya’akov must now balance two conflicting emotions: On the one hand, he does not want to leave Israel; perhaps he prophetically senses that, despite Hashem’s pledge to him, he will live out the rest of his days in Egypt and only return to the Holy Land in a casket. This is the dark foreboding of the “night vision.”
Yet on the other hand, he is desperate to be reunited with Yosef, not only to see his most beloved son alive—a miracle come true!—but also to know that at long last his family will again be complete and whole. Fittingly, the Torah’s narrative at this point pauses to list Ya’akov’s genealogy and name all 70 of his family members who will be accompanying him to Egypt—“kol nefesh banav u’v’notav.”
This desire for family unity drives Ya’akov forward and gives him the strength, at the advanced age of 130, to make the grueling journey to Egypt, where he will spend the remaining 17 years of his life with his entire family.
A bit of gematria reinforces how special this time was for Ya’akov. The combined numerical value of the two parshiyot in which Ya’akov is together with all his loved ones, Vayigash and Vayechi, totals 353. This is the same number as the word Goshen, the place where the family lived during all those years, as well as the word simcha, happiness. Living together in Goshen, it would seem, was a great joy for patriarch Ya’akov.
Furthermore, the gematria of Vayechi is 34, representing the total number of years Ya’akov will be with Yosef during his lifetime: Seventeen years before Yosef is abducted and 17 years after they are finally reunited.
Ya’akov’s predicament and mixed emotions are so relevant to the world we Jews live in today. For many of us, our burning desire to accept Hashem’s gift to us and enjoy the blessing of living in Israel—not to mention fulfilling a fundamental mitzvah of the Torah—is tinged by sadness and regret that many of our family, personal as well as universal, are not here to share in this miracle together with us.
Perhaps that is why, when asked by Pharaoh how old he was, Ya’akov replied: “Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life.” Ya’akov, I suggest, understood that true happiness can only come when all of our extended family finally lives together in the redeemed Land of Israel. May that great moment occur soon, and in our day.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana ([email protected]) and a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau (mizrachi.org/speakers).