And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; so the days of Jacob, the years of his life, were a hundred forty and seven years.
What is the significance of Torah’s mention of the the fact that “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt”?
How to “Organize” a Prayer
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, known by the title of his sefer, the Toldos Yaakov Yosef. He addresses this question with a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. If we rewind to Parshat Vayigash, we have the following verse, “and Judah came near unto him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let your servant, I pray you, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not your anger burn against your servant; for you are even as Pharaoh.” (Genesis 44:18). In the Gemara, this verse is explained to mean that a person should always “organize” his prayers in such a way that they begin with the praise of G-d, and then add in his or her own requests (Berachos 32a). Thus, when Judah said, “my lord”, according to this statement of our Sages, he was addressing G-d Himself (and the word “lord” in the Hebrew text is in fact spelled aleph-daled-nun-yod, the way we spell “L-rd”).
In all Suffering There is a Spark of G-dliness
The Ramban explains that the power of the Creator is manifest in His creations, that the whole universe is but a garment for Him. Think of how, when you move, your clothing moves with you. This is how creation relates to the Creator. Therefore, in all suffering, there is a spark of G-dliness, as it is stated in the Tikkunei Zohar, “there is no place devoid of Him” (Tikkun 57). If we simply contemplate any difficult challenge we face in life, we can remember that G-d is found everywhere. Gaining this type of insight is akin to removing the “garment” of suffering to find G-d there.
There is a deeper meaning to a person beginning his or her prayers with the praise of G-d. It is that the ultimate praise of G-d is the fact that His Glory fills the entire universe, i.e. no place is devoid of Him. This means that, even in the farthest reaches, and the darkest places, He is there. Having “found” Him this way, we can get beyond our challenges and suffering. We can now begin to make our requests. When Judah began his dialogue with the praise of G-d, he was able to get beyond the difficulty posed by Joseph to him and the other brothers, and ultimately reveal Joseph’s true identity as the loving brother who would sustain them all.
Why Can it be Said that Jacob Lived in the Land of Egypt?
Now we can understand what is meant by, “and Jacob lived in the land of Egypt”. Jacob, the father of all Israel, knew that G-d is to be found everywhere, even in the lowest and darkest places–of which Egypt, or Mitzrayim is the spiritual paradigm. The very name “Jacob” contains the word עקב (aikev), which means “heel”, the lowest and least sensitive part of the body. Mitzrayim (Egypt), which is related to the word metzarim (narrow confines), was a spiritual “heel” amongst the cultures of the world, and yet, as the verse states, “From the confines (metzar), I called to G-d” (Psalms 118:), Jacob knew how to find G-d even in such a place. That is why it can be said that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt.
May we all be blessed to reach out and find G-d no matter where we are.
By Rabbi Tani Burton
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