Parshas Vayechi brings us to the end of Sefer Bereishis and the end of the era of the Avos. From this point on, Bnei Yisrael begin the transition from a family to a nation. It also signals the beginning of Galus Mitzrayim and the labor forced upon Bnei Yisrael for over 200 years. It all begins with Yaakov’s passing.
When Yaakov realizes that he will soon pass away, he wants to be sure that he will be buried in Eretz Yisrael in Me’aras Hamachpela together with his ancestors. His fear was that since his coming to Mitzrayim brought good fortune to the Egyptians (he gave Paroh a brachah that the Nile River should overflow, ending the famine), they will want to bury him there in order to keep that fortune coming. Yosef being viceroy of Mitzrayim would have the authority to bury Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael so Yaakov made him swear to do so. When Yosef takes the oath to fulfill Yaakov’s wishes, the pasuk says, “וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל רֹאשׁ הַמִּטָּה” “And Yisrael bowed on the head of the bed” (Bereishis 47:31).
While Yosef was a king, it is still strange that his father would bow down to him. Rashi gives several explanations why Yaakov did so. The first one he gives is a famous statement from the gemarah in Megillah (16b), “During the fox’s time, bow down to him”. Meaning, that even though Yaakov had no obligation to bow down to his son, since Yosef would be the one to determine whether this last request would be carried out, he showed him an advanced level of respect. Rashi gives two more explanations what the pasuk is teaching us when it says Yaakov bowed “on the head of the bed”. The first explanation Rashi gives is that Yaakov was bowing down to the Shechinah which rests at the head of every sick person.
The Sifsei Chachamim asks that this explanation is the exact opposite of what Rashi explained previously! Earlier in the pasuk, Rashi explained that Yaakov was bowing down to Yosef, and then only to acknowledge the kindness Yosef was doing for him. Now, Rashi explains that Yaakov is bowing down in recognition of Hashem’s presence! Which one is it? The Sifsei Chachamim explains that Rashi read the pasuk and saw that is said that Yaakov bowed and that he did so at the head of the bed. He learned from this that if Yaakov was only bowing down to Hashem, the pasuk could have said explicitly that he bowed down to Hashem! The fact the pasuk only tells me this through a hint that Yaakov bowed at the head of the bed, shows me that he bowed to someone else as well, in this case, Yosef.
I’d like to offer an alternative answer. Rashi brings a third explanation why Yaakov bowed, that when Yaakov bowed at “the head of the bed”, he was bowing that his bed was “complete”, meaning that all his children were tzaddikim. The biggest challenge to this happening was Yosef since he had lived almost forty years in the spiritual wasteland of Mitzrayim, including twenty-two as the viceroy, yet he still was able to remain a tzaddik. Therefore, in Yosef’s presence, Yaakov felt it most fitting to acknowledge this great accomplishment. I believe this explanation ties together the previous two. Yosef was Yaakov’s biggest obstacle to achieving this status of having a complete bed. Seeing him now at this time, Yaakov was bowing to Hashem because of Yosef. Because Yosef was standing in front of him alive and was a tzaddik as well, Yaakov bowed to Hashem and Yosef at the same time.
At the beginning of the Parshah, the Ramban discusses the many similarities between Galus Mitzrayim and the current Galus we face nowadays. Yaakov went down to Mitzrayim to escape the famine while always planning to return to Eretz Yisrael. Mitzrayim was only a viable option because of the esteem the Egyptians had for Yosef. However, as we know, Yaakov did not return to Eretz Yisrael before his death and the rest of his family did not leave for many years. However, eventually Hashem did take us out in a story well-known to all.
In the times of the second Beis Hamikdash, the Jewish People had made a treaty with the Romans and came to them when they needed help in Jerusalem. Eventually the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem which led to famine and eventually the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and our expulsion from Eretz Yisrael. However, just as the Galus Mitzrayim ended and in such a fashion that every nation recognized Hashem as the ruler of the world, so too will this current galus end and everyone will recognize Hashem as the true ruler of the world.
May it come speedily in our days.
Chazak Chazak V’Nischazek!
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