Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vayehi and Family Harmony

This week we conclude the Book of Genesis. Jacob gathers his family together to offer a final benediction. The portion opens with the words: “Jacob lived seventeen years in the land of Egypt…” (Genesis 47:28) And how old was Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery? Seventeen. The commentators notice this symmetry. Jacob enjoyed the same number of years living with his son in Egypt as Joseph did living with his father in Canaan. What are we to make of this symmetry? The tumultuous years of Joseph’s youth are perfectly balanced by these final seventeen years.

Would that we discover such perfect symmetry in our own lives!

The midrash adds: “These seventeen years were the best years of Jacob’s life – years of prosperity, goodness and peace; his other 130 years were filled with toil and pain.”

Why were the best years of his life spent in Egypt? How could Jacob enjoy any place but the ideal land of Israel? The commentators suggest that the answer must be that he studied Torah in Egypt and thereby redeemed its pagan influences. I think the answer is far more obvious. We need not reach and imagine that Jacob observed such traditional behaviors to justify his happiness in a foreign land.

So why was Jacob so happy? In Egypt his family was once again whole. His sons have forgiven each other. Now they each have flourishing families of their own. Jacob can enjoy the comforts his son has amassed. He can relish in the joys of grandchildren. In Egypt he, and his entire family, have discovered a tranquility that eluded them in Canaan.

The lesson is clear. Shalom bayit, peace in the home, is more prized than even the most cherished of locations. It is a blessing that eluded our patriarch Jacob for the majority of his life. Now he has found it. And he discovers it no less in Egypt!

Peace between siblings, love between parents and children, is the greatest blessing of all. We need not venture to a sacred destination in order to discover this blessing. It is always nearby.

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