In this week’s Parsha of Vayigash we learn about the descent of Yaakov Avinu and his family into the land of Egypt. We are told that the total number of those who came were seventy souls. The Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague, 16th century) explains the significance of this number. The journey of this entire family to Egypt was the beginning of the first exile of the Jewish people. In order to have the strength to withstand the forces of assimilation of the 70 nations of the world, it was essential for there to be 70 souls in this initial group.
However, if we count the names of those listed, we find that there are, in fact, only sixty-nine people mentioned. This discrepancy is discussed extensively amongst the commentaries, with the many explanations focusing on the different lessons that can be learned. Rashi explains that there were in fact only sixty nine who descended from the Land of C’naan, but seventy who entered Egypt, as the wife of Levi gave birth to a daughter, Yocheved, as they were entering. This highlights the importance of every Jewish child. In line with explanation of the Maharal, we see that this one newborn infant was key to the survival of the Jewish People.
The Midrash provides an alternative explanation, attributing the addition to the total count to a man named Chushim, the only son of Dan. According to tradition, Chushim was a deaf-mute. Although he is mentioned in the count, the Midrash tells us that he was actually counted as two, due to the fact that he fathered the second most populous tribe. The above two explanations teach us valuable lessons. Firstly, though Yocheved was just a newborn child, she essentially changed the face of Jewish history. Every Jewish soul, no matter how young or seemingly small has its own unique and everlasting contribution in this and to the Jewish nation. Additionally, though a person may appear to be less able to contribute to society, due to physical or psychological limitations, we learn from Chushim to never underestimate the ability of any individual to impact our world.
This coming week is the fast of Asarah B’Tevet, commemorating the siege of Yerushalayim which led to its destruction. Our sages teach that as long as the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and Yerushalayim have not been rebuilt, each generation is responsible for its destruction, insofar as they have not brought about its rebuilding. We see from this parsha that it is up to each and every one of us to examine our actions and ensure that we are doing all that we can towards the this rebuilding. May we merit to see the rebuilding of Beit Hamikdash and usher in an era of the ultimate peace in the world with the coming of Moshiach.
High School Judaic Studies Teacher