The last seventeen years of the life of our father Jacob are ones of apparent tranquility and comfort. Even though he is already in Egypt and is aware that this is the beginning of the long and brutal exile, foreseen by his grandfather Abraham in his vision of the covenant that will bind the Jewish people to its Creator and destiny, he nevertheless enjoys the temporary comfort, care and familial tranquility that now surrounds him.
Jacob wished to have such a life, decades earlier. In the words of Rashi, he wanted to dwell with a sense of security and well-being – before the situation with Joseph and his brothers erupted and subjected him and them the trauma that is recorded for us in the previous Torah chapters. Yet, it is obvious from the tone and wordings of his final blessings to his children, that Jacob is looking far ahead, well past Egyptian exile and even towards the end of days.
Rashi points out that the Holy Spirit had departed from Jacob during his years of grief over the disappearance of his beloved son Joseph. When one is tragically affected by grief and sadness, it is almost impossible to have a vision or a sense of the future and better times.
The rabbis, in their sensitive wisdom, cautioned against providing comfort when a wound is open and the pain fresh and severe. There is little room for the Holy Spirit to enter a person whose heart is been broken and is in an emotional state of grief and depression. But now when his family is restored and his spirits have been raised, he is once again blessed with farsighted vision and words of prophecy and eternity.
Judaism and the Jewish people always look toward the future even when their current circumstances are bitter and sad. Jacob himself appraised it when he said he would receive his reward tomorrow. Our reward is always tomorrow, for we realize that temporary situations, both good and better, are transitory and in the long run of human existence, the experience of one generation or even a few generations may not be as vital and important as we think them to be.
Looking back at the 18th and 19th centuries, I am struck by the fact that, with the exception of study, all of the other ideas and social streams of those times have practically disappeared from Jewish life. There are no more enlightened Jews – only Jews with different degrees of observance present in their lives. The idols that once were worshipped have either been smashed by events of history or have collapsed of their own ineptitude and distortion.
It is often difficult to judge present circumstances because we ourselves are only temporary residents here. We tend to give greater weight to events which again, in the long run of history, may not count for much.
Our father Jacob looks forward to the future and sees the sojourn of the Jewish people in Egypt, important and necessary as it may have been, to be only a blip on the radar screen of the eternity of Israel and the Jewish faith.
Rabbi Berel Wein