Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
The Beginning of Exile
Galus Mitzrayim serves as the prototype for all future exiles. This, the first galus of the Jewish people begins in Parshas Vayigash, as Yaakov and his family descend to Mitzrayim. The lessons we can glean from galus Mitzrayim will enable us to endure our present exile.
The Torah enumerates the descendants of Yaakov who arrived in Mitzrayim. Although the Torah presents the sum total as 70, only 69 people are recorded. This led Chazal to the conclusion that Yocheved, the mother of Moshe Rabbeinu was born at the same time as Yaakov's family entered the borders of Mitzrayim, marking the Jews' entry into galus. What is the divine message to be found in these simultaneous events? The birth of Yocheved represented the very beginning of the redemption from Mitzrayim. Hashem would not send us into galus, without ensuring from the very onset, that a geulah would take place. Although yetzias Mitzrayim was not to take place for many years, the seeds of the geulah had been planted at precisely the moment that galus had begun.
Anticipating geulah at the onset of galus was taught by Yaakov. Chazal tell us that Yaakov brought cedar wood to Mitzrayim because he knew that eventually his descendants would be commanded to construct a mishkan from this material. Although the mishkan would only be built several generations later, Yaakov could not enter galus without carrying with him the seeds of geulah. This was not the first time that Yaakov had been exiled. He had already been forced to flee from Eretz Yisroel and had lived in Lavan's house for 20 years. Yaakov taught us that as a Jew goes into exile he must prepare the way for his return.
In Parshas Vayigash we learn another critical message concerning galus. Prior to Yaakov's arrival in Mitzrayim he had sent Yehudah ahead to prepare the way. Chazal tell us that Yehudah was instructed to establish a place of learning before Yaakov set foot in Eretz Goshen. Again, Yaakov was instructing us in how to go into galus. The only way to ensure the Jewish people's survival in galus is to immediately build places of learning. The slightest delay exposes the Jewish people to the dangers of galus without the Torah as protection.
The manner in which galus begins sets the tone for its duration. The Jewish people must go into galus knowing from the onset that they will return. They must carry the Torah with them from the very beginning to ensure their survival.