“And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” [Genesis 47:28]

Last week’s sidra concluded with the settlement of Jacob and his family in the Goshen region of the land of Egypt, where they acquired property and were fruitful and multiplied.

This week’s portion begins by informing us that Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (early 20th century) in his commentary to the Torah, Meshech Chochma, observes that people can live their lives on different levels.

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 may have the ability to make a mark on their country or society or even their generation.

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 sidra, we read how Pharaoh was awed by the presence of the elderly Jacob and inquires as to his age. Jacob, in response, blesses Pharaoh.

When Jacob died the impact of his death was felt across Egypt. His body was embalmed and he was accorded the equivalent of a State Funeral. Thus the sidra begins with the words “Jacob lived in the land of Egypt.” Of course he resided in Goshen but he didn’t simply live in Goshen with his family for Goshen alone. His was a life was one that made its mark on a far wider canvas. He lived for the whole country. Egyptian society as a whole benefited from his presence.