Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Vayechi - 5774
THE BEGINNING OF THE SPIRITUAL EXILE
The term Parashah commonly used as reference to the weekly Torah portion is actually a misnomer. Parashah literally means a paragraph as applied to the textual layout of the Torah scrolls. In almost every instance, weekly Torah portions are demarcated from one another by means of an empty line, which sets apart the opening verse of the Parashah from the section that precedes it. Parashat Vayechi is an exception to this rule-it begins on the same line as the preceding Parashah with no break!
Rashi explains that the Parashah of Vayechi is closed to convey the idea that with the passing of Yaakov, "The eyes and the hearts of the Jewish people were closed due to the anguish of servitude."
Rashi does not mean that the actual enslavement commenced at the time of Yaakov's passing. We know that as long as the children of Yaakov were alive, the Israelites were free people. Rather what Rashi is saying is that when the patriarch of the family died the Jews closed their eyes to the fact that they are in an exile. They were developing a feeling that their place is in Egypt not in Canaan.
As long as Yaakov was alive the Jews understood that they are temporary refugees in a foreign land. They were isolated in Goshen away from the Egyptian society, waiting for the day when they finally return home. With the passing of Yaakov, the spiritual exile, the precursor to the physical one, had begun!