Parashas Vayechi

This week’s parashah begins: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years – and Yaakov’s days, the years of his life, were one hundred forty-seven years.” This verse contains redundant information: We know already from last week’s parashah that Yaakov was 130 years old when he arrived in Egypt, so once we are told that he died at the age of 147, we automatically know without being told that he spent 17 years in Egypt. Several commentators explain that during these last 17 years of his life Yaakov was able to “truly live” – he enjoyed a life of serenity, free from the ordeals he had suffered throughout his previous years. The Maggid elaborates on this explanation.
Our Sages say that a righteous man initially suffers afflictions, but afterward, in the end, is granted serenity (Bereishis Rabbah 66:4). Hashem, for various reasons, imposes extra suffering on the righteous during their initial years, but He later grants them extra blessing in return for the extra afflictions they suffered initially. In this vein, Iyov’s comrade Bildad tells him (Iyov 8:7): “Though your beginning was meager, your end will flourish exceedingly.” He was explaining to Iyov that just as his portion of Divine blessing was now much more meager than the norm, in the end he would receive a portion much greater than the norm. Indeed, in the final chapter of Sefer Iyov it is written (verse 42:12): “Hashem beirach es acharis Iyov mei-reishiso.” Literally translated, the verse says: “Hashem blessed Iyov’s end more than his beginning” – that is, after Iyov’s ordeal was over, Hashem granted him greater blessing than he had before. But we can also render the verse as saying: “Hashem blessed Iyov’s end on account of his beginning” – on account of the extraordinary affliction Iyov suffered during his ordeal, Hashem afterward granted him extraordinary blessing.
The life of our forefather Yaakov, the Maggid says, followed the same pattern. Initially, Yaakov endured extraordinary suffering, involving a long series of difficult ordeals: the years spent working for Lavan, the conflict with Eisav, the episode of Dinah and Shechem, Yosef’s apparent death, Shimon’s being taken prisoner, and having to send Binyamin to Egypt. In compensation, Hashem granted Yaakov extraordinary serenity at the end of his life.
The Maggid then explains how the opening verse of our parashah reflects this pattern. Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years. These years were infused with extraordinary blessing, which made up for the extraordinary lack of blessing that Yaakov had faced earlier. As a result, Yaakov’s total allotment of blessing over his entire life was exactly 147 standard (for Yaakov’s spiritual level) yearly portions. He had a lifetime of exactly 147 years, in the sense of having experienced 147 years’ worth of blessing.
The Maggid goes on to say that the same pattern applies to the Jewish People as a whole, in line with the rule that the experiences of the forefathers are precursors to those of the descendants (maaseh avos siman la-banim). Over the course of history up to the present, we have endured extraordinary suffering – way beyond that seen by any other people on earth. But, in the end, Hashem will repay us with extraordinary blessing. Thus He has promised us (Yeshayah 61:7): “In place of your double portion of shame, and the disgrace they would bewail as their portion, accordingly they shall inherit a double portion in their land, and they shall attain eternal joy.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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