The Book of Shmos begins with a new reality for the Jewish People. A reality which introduces on the one hand the prosperity of the Jewish people and their assimilation into Egyptian culture, and at the same time a growing anti-semitism which ensued.
This was a new Egypt for the Children of Israel. Not only was there a new Pharaoh “which knew not Joseph’ but there was also a Jewish community that no longer recognized the Egypt they had known. What happened?
One of the things that happened is that Yaakov Avinu, the Jewish Patriarch, died. Apparently this was no small event. The Torah reports that when Yaakov passed away “the entire Land of Egypt cried for seventy days”! This wasn’t just a day of mourning, a day of paying respect to a Jewish leader – they all cried. Modern estimates say that the population of Ancient Egypt was about five million people. Five million people cried for seventy days! A city was renamed Aveil Mitzraim!
When I imagine this scene I wonder – did the population know Yaakov? Did they ever see him? Did they ever even hear of him? Why were they crying?
Perhaps they didn’t know him; maybe they never even heard of him, yet the loss was immense. Every house in Egypt became a house of mourning.
When Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, apparently something similar took place. “The dignity, the beauty and the sparkle of Be’er Sheva was lost. (Rashi Vayetze). It seems to be a fact that when the Tzadok was in a place there was a certain positive energy that emanated from him. Things were different. There was a blessing abound.
The story is told that in Radin the Gentiles used to ask the Chofetz Chaim to walk over their fields or touch their cows. Although, to put it mildly, Gentiles in Poland generally did not think much of the Jews, they nevertheless recognized that the Chofetz Chaim was a great holy man and that his footsteps would bring prosperity to their fields. They were convinced that his touch would bring increased milk supply to their cows.
It is possible that the Egyptians never even heard of Yaakov Avinu but they did recognize that when he died somehow the blessing was missing. Everything changed. Somehow the happiness in the homes and the prosperity in the market place abruptly ended. Perhaps the Egyptians were crying and they didn’t even know why they were crying! They were crying, as an unexpected black cloud hovered over their land. Without being able to pinpoint why – things just weren’t right anymore. For seventy days they cried and cried.
When Yaakov died, Egypt was a different Egypt then it was before.
As the descendants of this great man, we have to understand our own contributions to the communities in which we live. God told Abraham that wherever you go you will create blessing. If we aspire to imitate the ways of Yaakov, and Yitzchok and Avrohom before him, if we live with their selfless tenets and timeless teachings we can also bring blessing to everyone around us.
Creating blessing is not only something we can do, it is our mandate. This is the life and indeed the purpose of the Jew.