This coming Shabbos parshas Vayechi, we are going to finish reading Chumesh Breishis – one of the five sforim of Torah Shebiksav. We begin the parsah with the possuk: “Vayechi Yaakov beeretz mitzrayim shvah esrei shone” – “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”. The Toldos Yaakov Yosef and the Teshuos Chen are explaining the meaning of Yaakov ovinu’s 17 years in Mitzrayim, based on the statement in the Gemorah (Berachos 60:): “It was taught in the name of Rabbi Akiva, one should always be in the habit of saying, “Kol mah deovid rachmone letav hu devoid” – All that that the Hashem the Merciful One does is for the best.”
The word “Tov”, meaning “good,” has a numerical value of seventeen. So, the verse above–“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”—conveys the following: when Yaakov was in exile in Egypt, he accepted the fact that all that transpired was for the best—he dwelt there for seventeen years alluding to the fact that it was in his family’s best interest.
Why did Yaakov merit this achievement—accepting that all that Hashem does is for our benefit–specifically in the land of Egypt? Originally, Yaakov thought that Yosef was dead and he suffered greatly, as he states (Bereishis 37,35): “For I will go down to the grave mourning over my son.” Afterwards, when he learns that Yosef is still alive and of his rise to power in Egypt, he fears that his son has been tainted by the impure influences of Egypt.
Yet, after going down to Egypt, he sees the kedushah radiating on Yosef’s face, as it is written (Breishis 46,30): “I can die this time, after having seen your face, because you are still alive.” He then realizes that not only did Yosef sanctify himself in Egypt, he even managed to pave the way for all of Yisroel to sanctify themselves. This is expressed in the Midrash (V.R. 32,5): Yosef guarded himself from immorality in Egypt and Yisroel guarded themselves, as well, in his merit.
Thus, Yaakov realized the enormous favor underlying Yosef’s going down to Egypt. It was for this reason that Hashem arranged for Yosef to be sold into slavery and end up in Egypt at the age of seventeen—as we see in the possuk (Bereishis 37,2): “Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock.” There was a concealed “Tov” (numerical value of seventeen), benefit, underlying his sale into slavery. Therefore, we learn that “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years”—during these years that he spent with Yosef in Egypt, he witnessed his son’s immense kedushah and realized that all that they had endured was a manifestation of “Tov” (good) equivalent to seventeen.
Thirty-three Years that Were Taken Away from Yaakov
We continue to dive and enjoy the wonders of Torah, as we explain in greater depth why Yaakov Avinu achieves this realization and this form of service to Hashem specifically in Egypt. There he learns to accept that all of the calamities and the suffering have been for his own good—represented by “Shevah Esrei” which alludes to “Tov”. This explanation is based on the verses in parshas Vayigash (Bereishis 47,8): “Pharaoh said to Yaakov, ‘How many are the days of the years of your life?’ Yaakov said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my sojourns have been one hundred and thirty years; few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.’”
The Daas Zekeinim from the Balei Tosfos cites an unbelievable Midrash concerning these verses: HKB”H takes issue with Yaakov for describing the days of his life as “few and bad.” He points out that He saved Yaakov from Eisav and Lavan and returned both Dinah and Yosef to him. As a consequence, HKB”H decrees that He will shorten Yaakov’s life by the same number of years as the number of words in these verses. In other words, he will not live to be one hundred and eighty years old as his father Yitzchak did; rather, he will only live to be one hundred and forty seven years old. Just as there are thirty-three words in those verses, so, too, his life will be shortened by thirty-three years.
Now, it is our obligation to set the record straight concerning Yaakov Avinu’s behavior in this matter. Our blessed sages, in the Midrash (B.R. 76,1), attest to the fact that our grandfather, Yaakov Avinu, was the “HaBechur shebovos” – elite of the Patriarchs. Additionally, we the entire Klal Yisruel are named “Yisroel” after Yaakov who was named with an additional name Yisruel. So how is it even possible to entertain the thought that he failed to accept his suffering gladly and that he was deprived of thirty-three precious years of his life as punishment?
We suggest an explanation based on the amazing teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov, zy”a. Occassionally HKB”H trips up the tzaddik, so that he will intensify his efforts to elevate himself spiritually. In the process, he is able to elevate the rest of Yisroel, as well, who are not on his spiritual level. Based on this concept, we can suggest that when Yaakov Avinu, “the elite of the Patriarchs,” complained to Pharaoh: “few and bad have been the days of the years of my life”—it was heavenly ordained. By means of this spiritual decline, he served the greater good. This minor fall motivated him to enhance his efforts to correct his flaws and to accept his suffering lovingly. In the process, he paved the way for all of Yisroel, during the exile in Egypt and the other exiles, to elevate themselves along with him by accepting their suffering willingly.
When Yaakov arrived in Egypt, he beheld the tremendous kindness that HKB”H had performed on his behalf. Not only was his beloved Yosef still alive and still righteous and devout, but he had blazed the way for all of Yisroel to remain devout and sanctified in Egypt. As is the way of tzaddikim, he searched his soul and realized that it was incumbent upon him to atone for his inappropriate comments to Pharaoh. Therefore, he began teaching his children the invaluable lesson that everything that the Merciful One does is for the best.
This, then is the interpretation of the possuk:“Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years.” When Yaakov arrived in Egypt and beheld HKB”H’s hidden kindness, he began teaching his children the lesson and concept of seventeen. In other words, he inculcated in them the belief and understanding that everything HKB”H does, even at times when His Presences appears to be concealed, is a form of which is the numerical equivalent of the word “Tov”, meaning good.
In the rest of the mamar we show how Rabeinu HaKadosh who was: Nitutzo Shel Yaakov Avinu – a spark of Yaakov Avinu, chose to begin Torah Shebaal Phe with the mitzvah of krias shmah, so we should never forget the invaluable lesson that everything that HKB”H does is for the best. The same goes for Rabbi Akivah who has the same letters of Abbir Yaakov, because he was the spark of Yaakov, therefore it was he who thought us the great lesson mentioned above: “One should always be in the habit of saying, Kol mah deovid rachmone letav hu devoid” – All that the HKB”H does is for the best.”
Thanks to the wonderful translation of Dr. Baruch Fox we can all enjoy the rest of the mamar with all its beauty and glory.
Have a wonderful and lechtiken Shabbos
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The Mamar in Lashon Hakodesh