There were once two boys who went ice-skating on a frozen lake in their neighborhood. As they were enjoying themselves, the ice suddenly cracked, and one of the boys fell through into the icy water. His friend started frantically reaching for him, but he was too late, and the boy got swept underneath the ice. Desperate to save his friend, this scrawny boy quickly looked around, saw a tree in the distance, and rushed over to try to pull off a branch. After tugging for a few seconds, he managed to crack off a huge branch, and he then quickly ran back to his friend. He smashed and thrashed at the thick ice until it finally cracked, allowing him to grab onto his friend. He dragged him back to the shore just as the ambulance arrived, and miraculously, they were able to resuscitate him.

Does the Torah know how to count?

It might not seem so, as Parshas VaYigash lists the 69 people in Yaakov’s family who came down to Egypt and then refers to them as “the 70 people” (B’reishis 46:27). Rashi (v. 15) explains that the 70th person in Yaakov’s family was Levi’s daughter Yocheved, future mother of Moshe Rabbeinu. She is not listed by name among the other 69 travelers, as she was not yet born when Yaakov began the journey down south(west). It was only as they passed through the gates of Egypt that Yocheved was born, bringing the grand total to 70 people.

 It’s hard to imagine a worse quality
for a school teacher than anger.

And yet, shockingly, that seems to be the quality that Yaakov Avinu was looking for in Jewish teachers! After reprimanding Shimon and Levi for their rage that destroyed the city of Sh’chem, Yaakov prophesied that these two tribes would eventually be scattered throughout the Land of Israel (B’reishis 49:7). Rashi explains that Yaakov felt Shimon and Levi had the aptitude for teaching young children. By spreading their descendants across the country, Yaakov hoped to ensure a proper education for the whole nation.

In Parshas VaYigash, Yaakov is finally reunited with Yosef after 22 years of separation. In what can only be imagined as an intensely emotional scene, Yaakov embraces Yosef, sobbing on his neck (B’reishis 46:29). Rashi, quoting the midrash, explains that as Yaakov embraced Yosef for the first time in 22 years, he was saying k’rias Sh’ma. What is the meaning of this? Why not wait until after this joyful and emotional reunion with his long-lost son to pray? The answer often given is that Yaakov was overcome by intense emotion and wanted to channel this emotion towards Hashem through reciting k’rias Sh’ma. However, there may be a deeper layer here, as well.

On the one hand, we all believe that we are unique and special. On the other hand, we sometimes struggle to experience our individuality, feeling almost lost in the crowd. If you’ve ever walked the streets of a crowded city, surrounded by thousands of people walking in different directions, you may have felt almost invisible. We live on a planet with over seven billion people; planet Earth itself is a speck in the universe. If our planet is so infinitesimally small – relative to the universe – and within our planet, each of us is only one of more than seven billion people, how are we supposed to feel special and unique?

With great responsibility comes great power.

The drama continues. A disguised Yosef is keeping Shimon locked up and threatening to deny any more food to Yaakov’s family until the youngest is brought down to Egypt. Desperate and starving, the brothers beg their father to entrust them with precious Binyamin, but Yaakov is unwilling and refuses to be persuaded.