“…Thus the total of Jacob’s household who came to Egypt was seventy persons.”
Parashat Vayigash describes Joseph’s emotional reconciliation with his brothers who then return to Canaan to tell Jacob, their father, the good news. Jacob is overjoyed to learn Joseph is still alive and leaves Canaan for Egypt. And the first exile begins.
The rabbis write: “Jacob should have gone down in chains.” (Yalkut Shimoni Hosea 528). Rav Kook (1865-1935; first Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the British Mandate) explains this startling comment requires understanding that exile can support two goals. The first is to keep the people far from the temptations of material well-being and physical comfort so they remain devoted to God, exclusively. The second is to spread the belief in one God throughout the world (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 87b). But what does this have to do with Jacob?
Since Jacob is spiritually perfect, and in no danger of corruption by engagement in worldly matters and success, his exile must be to spread the belief in one God. Jacob’s descendants, however, require the degrading aspects of slavery to purge them of materialistic urges and help them acquire a steadfast belief in God. Door number one for them.
Since the exile begins with Jacob, the midrash (rabbinic interpretation) expects Jacob to be in chains. But Yalkut Shimoni continues, “Yet God said, ‘Jacob, My first-born, how could I banish him in disgrace? Rather I will send his son to go down before him.’” This raises an important theological question: if God can be gracious to Jacob, why must God be so harsh with the other Jewish people? Is this before-the-fact punishment even just? This “Tough Love” path to faith remains controversial to this day.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom