Leann Shamash
Author of the blog Words Have Wings

17 years: A song of gratitude


Jacob lived 17 years in the land of Egypt, so that the span of Jacob’s life came to 147 years.

* * *

The final 17 years of Jacob’s life are not recorded as one of the stories in Breisheet. The drama of Joseph’s story, interwoven with the story of his brothers and father is nearly complete. The reunion has occurred, the brothers and their families have come to reside in Goshen and the period of famine gradually ends.

Parshat Vayechi, (And He Lived), is a long narrative of the deaths of both Jacob and Joseph. It is a parsha that contains the final insightful blessings that Jacob gives to each of his sons. Also connected to blessings, is the well drawn scene of Jacob switching his hands to give Joseph’s younger son the blessing instead of the older. Somehow, with this final switch of hands, we are no longer surprised that it is not the order of birth which counts, but something different, more elusive. Is it leadership or is it destiny?

Finally, we return to the first sentence of Parshat Vayechi, which mentions the seventeen years Jacob resided in Egypt. Nothing is written about those years, between Jacob’s arrival in Egypt and his death seventeen years later. Please enter into this small gap of time. Imagine with me what took place during these seventeen quiet years in the world of Ya’akov.

Seventeen Years: A Song of Gratitude

Of those 17 years, no words were written.

It is a mere space between lines.

But for much of those 17 years

of counting Egyptian sunrises,

most years were as peaceful as a breeze that barely ripples,

quiet as the dove’s dawn song,

soft as the wind’s whisper,

here now and then gone.

My children live nearby, sons grown tall as a grove of date palms.

Some sons are rough and others gentle,

some say little while others boast,

some are wise and others impulsive,

Some still harbor a grudge, and others threw that away long ago.

There is now gray in their beards,

they are children no more,

They get along well and for this I count my blessings.

As the famine finally fled,

when the shearing season was upon us,

at the hint of the first rains,

with the fruits of the first harvests

or at the time of the new moons,

we would all sit together and eat

together as a family.

Our stomachs full,

our smiles wide

and we would drink of the wines of Goshen.

The sounds of talking and singing would surround us,

children running wild from spot to spot,

cousins playing together, noisily competing,

slowly building trust

and I began to see the beginning in the ending.

Cousins growing together,

and I understood that this is a blessing.

Seventeen years, for which no words were written.

Oh, it was so fine to see my tall bearded sons,

my daughter, so dear to me,

sit together in firelight,

adults now.

During those years,

I realized this gift,

quiet and still.

No wars, growing abundance,

the noise of children,

food on the table, growth.

For so long my life was hard and empty,

I lived without you, my lost son.

But you returned to me and

there is not a day that goes by that I do not bless God.

Seventeen years of sunrises, of sun and rain and filled cycles of the moon,

of sitting by the entrance to my tent and watching my children and grandchildren.

During those years I finally grew up

and as those final 17 years came to end,

and I became as bent as a reed, I understood why no words were ever written

about that time,

for truly, there are no words needed for perfection,

This is my wordless word,

the answer to the riddle,

this is perfection;

the 17 jewels on the crown.

About the Author
After a career in Jewish education, Leann Shamash is the author of the blog Words Have Wings, which addresses the parsha of the week through poetry.
Related Topics
Related Posts