From opposite sides of the world, tens of thousands of people have been paying their tributes this week to mourn the deaths of Pope Benedict XVI and football legend Pelé. Both the Vila Belmiro Stadium in Santos, Brazil, and St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome were thronged as the faithful came by to pay their respects.

The man of a 1000 goals was buried in a simple funeral on Tuesday and Benedict is due to be buried on Thursday with the full ritual accorded to a former pontiff. Both men were internationally known to millions beyond their own countries.

Similarly, the death of Jacob, described in this week’s parasha, was not an event limited to the family of the patriarch. Seventy days of national mourning were prescribed for the country. The cortege from Egypt to Israel comprised not only his family but also the leaders of Pharaoh’s court, the leaders of Egypt and a large military contingent of chariots and horsemen.

When the Canaanites saw the funeral, they exclaimed Avel Kaved Zeh LeMitzrayim – ‘this is a grievous mourning for Egypt.’

Jacob had no official role in Egypt. He came to the country with his family as Joseph’s father in order to escape the famine in Canaan. Pharaoh gave him asylum in Goshen. When he arrived in Egypt, he was already 130 years old. He didn’t undertake tours of the countryside, meeting inhabitants up and down the land. He remained in his home in Goshen, cared for by his family.

Yet, his death was seen as a national event.


Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (early 20th century) explains that some people are content with a life that simply centres on their immediate family. There are others, who have a wider impact. They may make a mark on their locality, or even their town. And there are yet others who have the ability to make a mark on their country or society or even their generation. Such a person was Jacob.

When Jacob came down to Egypt, his presence was not only a source of pride and joy to his family; it was received as a blessing by all of the Egyptian people. In Jacob’s merit, the famine that had been afflicting Egypt, came to an end. In last week’s parasha, we read how Pharaoh was awed by the presence of the elderly patriarch and inquires as to his age. Jacob, in response, blesses Pharaoh.

This week’s parasha begins with the words: “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” [Genesis 47:28]

Jacob didn’t just live in Egypt. He lived for Egypt. His inner spirituality was an inspiration and blessing for all.

Whoever we are, we should strive to live not just for ourselves but for others.

We may not be international figures of football or faith but can all attempt to paint the widest canvas of our lives.