Seventeen Years of Serenity
Our father Yaakov lived for seventeen years in the Goshen area of the land
of Egypt. These were undoubtedly the most peaceful, serene and happiest
years of his long and troubled life. He is reunited with his beloved son
Yosef who has risen to power and greatness, albeit in a strange land. No
Eisav, no Lavan, no Shechem, no Canaanite neighbors are present to disturb
his peace and security. And, with his family in all of its many generations
surrounding him, at peace with him and, superficially at least, with one
another, Yaakov is content.
Yaakov is finally vindicated in his life’s work and can enjoy the last years
of his life. In effect we can understand why the parsha begins –vayechi
Yaakov – for it is in these seventeen years that Yaakov truly lived, finally
achieving satisfaction and harmony.
The Talmud records for us that the great Rabi Yehuda HaNassi –Rabi – lived
in the city of Zippori for seventeen years and the Talmud explicitly
connects Rabi’s seventeen year sojourn in Zippori with Yaakov’s seventeen
years of life in Egypt.
Aside from the apparently magic number of seventeen being involved in both
instances, what connection is there if any between these two events,
especially since they took place millennia apart? The seeming word games of
the Talmud, linking like words that appear in the Torah, always have deeper
meaning attached to them. There is an underlying motif and relevant message
to all generations in this Talmudic assertion. It certainly should demand
our attention and study.
Rabi was the editor and publisher of the Mishna, the one book that
guaranteed the survival of the Jewish people throughout the long exile that
stretched forth and that he saw in his mind’s eye. Rabi saw himself, as did
his ancestor Yaakov, ensconced in a rare bubble of serenity and opportunity,
freed temporarily from the constant persecution of Rome due to his personal
friendship with the Roman emperor.
He grasped the moment and exploited the opportunity to codify the Oral Law
of Sinai and preserve it for all eternity amongst the Jewish people. Those
seventeen years of serenity in Zippori afforded him the opportunity to do
so. Yaakov’s seventeen years of family harmony and spiritual strengthening
in the land of Goshen enabled him to provide the necessary guidance and
insights to his family that would enable them to weather the long night of
Egyptian bondage and exile.
The last seventeen years of Yaakov’s life were the preparation for the
centuries of hardship that would follow. Yaakov’s ability to shape and guide
his family so that they would remain loyal and true to God’s covenant with
them was matched by the seventeen years of the development of the Mishna by
Rabi in Zippori many millennia later.
The actions of the forefathers became the instructional template for the
later generations. Thus the lives and patterns of behavior and events of
Yaakov and Rabi are bound together over the vast passage of time. Just as
Yaakov lives so does Rabi live. And this living is not constricted by years
or time but is endlessly eternal.
Rabbi Berel Wein