Parshat Vayechi tells us about the final moments of Ya’acov’s life and his blessings to his children. The first verse tells us, “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years, and Yaakov’s days, the years of his life, were a hundred and forty-seven years” (47:28)
The Baal HaTurim notes that the numerical value of the word ויחי is 34, equal to the number of the best years of Yaakov’s life. These 34 years are the 17 years between the birth of Yosef and his sale coupled with the 17 years that Yaakov lived in Egypt following their reunion. When the Torah says that a tzadik “lived”, it means that he lived life in its fullest sense, using every moment of those years productively in the service of Hashem. This was made possible for Yaakov because he had sent Yehuda to Egypt ahead of his arrival to establish a yeshiva as the foundational infrastructure for a Jewish community living in exile for the first time and facing new challenges. As long as Jewish life is set up properly, there can be a productive life even while living in exile in an immoral society.
Everyone there knew that the Jewish people were about to be enslaved for 400 years, and that this misfortune was being delayed in the merit of Ya’acov being alive, and for the service Yosef had performed for Egypt. Therefore, Ya’acov wanted to reveal the prophecy about the final redemption, but it was closed off and hidden from him. The hearts and eyes of the Jewish people were beginning to be closed as the Egyptian enslavement and attachment wasa already beginning.
The Netziv comments that Ya’acov could only see until the end of the events that happened in the lifetimes of those detailed in the Chumash, the generation of Bamidbar in the desert. He could see the beginning of the redemption, Joshua and the Judges leading his descendants into Israel and establishing civilian life, but he couldn’t see the new era of kingship that would begin with David HaMelech and Shlomo. After the passing of Ya’acov, and then Yosef, the next great leader of the Jewish people, Moshe will appear at the beginning of next week’s parsha. Moshe would be able to see future events leading up to the destruction of the First Temple, and the narrative of their prophecies is detailed in Tanach.
The “good” periods of 17 years correspond to the word in Hebrew for good, טוב. Yosef was only 17 when he was sold into slavery. He did not know what would happen next, but he had Emunah that Hashem was driving the events that were occurring. Nor did the Twelve Tribes know what happens next after Ya’acov died, but they were united to face whatever challenges came their way, reminding themselves that only through challenges and tests does a person become great.
This an important lesson for us to have faith through everything. When we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we have to keep praying for the best possible positive outcome, anticipate that something good will happen. One of our limitations is that human comprehension doesn’t allow us to perceive the whole breadth and scope of events that happen. Especially when they are actively happening. Only afterward do we begin to recognize the common threads running through everything, how one event led to another. We have to summon our energy and find those lights at the end of the tunnels that motivate us to focus our energy and move forward. This is what Ya’acov is doing when he asks Yosef to promise him as a final act of kindness that Yosef will ensure Ya’acov is buried in Eretz Yisrael. He’s looking forward to his soul returning home again and blesses his children to utilize the gifts they were endowed with and recognize their strengths to work together for the common good. Shabbat Shalom!!