Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Vayigash/Vayechi - 5772
The Torah tells us that “the number of individuals in Yaakov’s family who came to Egypt was seventy”. However anyone who takes the trouble to count the names listed will find that only sixty-six individuals are actually mentioned. The Sages of the Talmud explain that Yosef and his two sons were included in the sum total even though his two sons had been born in Egypt and did not technically “come to Egypt.” In addition, Moshe’s mother, Yocheved, was born at the exact moment when the Jews crossed the Canaan-Egypt border and thus she completes the count to seventy.
The commentators explain that the number seventy represents the collective totality of humanity. In numerous instances we find that the Torah refers to the world population at large as the “seventy nations” and the “seventy languages”. The purpose of humanity as a whole is to bring about the rectification of the evil found among the seventy nations, a process of “tikun.” Hashem gave mankind several opportunities to fulfill this mission yet mankind failed time after time. Finally Hashem gave up on mankind in general as his agents in this mission and assigned the task of purging the world of evil to a select group of spiritually advanced individuals - the Jews.
However, as representatives of the entire human race, they would assume their new role only when their group would expand to the point that it would include seventy individuals and thereby become a microcosm of mankind. The Torah here informs us that the Jews attained this new status moments before the onset of their exile in Egypt. From that point on, Hashem’s relationship with the Jews would remain the focal point of world history.