Our parsha this week begins with the words, Veyeshev Yakov Be’eretz Megurei Aviv, Be’eretz Keba’an. “Jacob dwelt in the land of the sojournings of his father, in the land of Canaan.”
The word Vayeshev “he dwelt” has the connotation of wanting to settle down permanently. As Rashi explains, Jacob thought he could now live in peace. He had resolved the conflict with his brother, Esau. He had raised twelve sons. Unlike his father who ‘sojourned’ in the land, which implies a lack of rootedness, Jacob thought he was entitled to live as a proper resident.
But why? On what basis should Jacob feel that it was his right to enjoy ‘dwelling in the land?”
Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik explains that two generations earlier, Abraham had received a prophecy that his “descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs. They would serve them and be afflicted by them for four hundred years…And the fourth generation will return here.”
The prophecy was unclear. On the one hand it referred to an exile of four hundred years. On the other hand it referred to an exile of just four generations, which is much less than four hundred years. Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that the prophecy was giving an upper and lower limit to the exile. If Abraham’s descendants were not worthy, their exile and subjugation would last for as much as four hundred years. If, however, they were worthy, it would be completed in just four generations. (As it transpired, the exile in Egypt lasted two hundred and ten years, and not four hundred.)
Jacob had been forced to run away to a foreign land, Charan. He had been made to work for Laban, who deceived him on countless occasions. His children were the fourth generation from Abraham. Maybe the terms of prophecy of the exile were being fulfilled with his family’s return to the land of Israel, where they could now live permanently? The possibility of an Egyptian exile, which was at the edge of his prophetic imagination, would be completely unnecessary?
Indeed, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, this was the original script! Jacob’s return with his family could have marked the beginning of the permanent settling of the land of Israel for the Children of Israel. However, it was thwarted when Jacob’s sons started quarrelling. The discord and jealousy meant that Plan B had to be adopted and more than two hundred and seventy years were to pass before the people of Israel would enter their Promised Land.