Without much fanfare, God offers his last words of the first book of the Torah, and with them, begins to unlock one of the most puzzling promises made to the forefathers. He speaks to Yaakov in a vision of the night, and we are reminded of the first night vision of Yaakov’s grandfather, Avraham, in chapter 15. Avraham receives a promise as strange as the visions surrounding it, of a future in which his children are enslaved and oppressed, and we are left wondering- what for? Why is this suffering and exile the prerequisite for the inheritance of the land about which Avraham questions God at the beginning of that chapter?

In Yaakov’s vision, God begins to reveal the mystery. “Do not fear descending to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there.” The transformation the Jewish people needs to undergo from a tribe to a nation apparently can only take place in exile, just as the first stage of the birth of the Jewish tribe came about as a result of Avraham’s exile from his home. We need the experience of the ‘smelting pot’ of Egypt to form our national DNA. What is it about that experience that is so central to the fashioning of our national identity?

Perhaps the text holds another clue, but this one is far more opaque than the first. God promises that he will descend with Yaakov, and that he will ultimately ascend with him as well. And what will happen in between? An enigmatic phrase that baffles the commentators. “Yosef will place his hands on your eyes.”  Do Yosef’s actions and the conditions that he creates for his family in Egypt have something to do with the promise that exile holds for the Jewish people’s development into a people? For the answer, we will have to wait for the full exposition of those actions in the coming 2 chapters.

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My own little daily 929 insight, in 300 words or so. What’s 929? Learn more at 929.org.il