This weeks Torah portion describes the last years of Jacob's life, which he spent in the land of Egypt, reunited with his favorite son Joseph, and surrounded by the rest of his children and grandchildren.
Indeed, our sages tell us that the best years of Jacob's life were these final years in Egypt. But how can that be? He had left the Holy Land, the land promised him by G-d, to live amongst idolatrous and morally corrupt people! It is a recurring theme throughout Torah literature that at that time in history Egypt was the most debased country in the world!
This is precisely the point.
Rashi tells us that Jacob's son Judah was sent ahead to Egypt early to establish a place for learning Torah, to give his family added strength to maintain the Jewish way of life in such an environment.
Whenever a person is faced with challenges and must persevere and face these challenges, what he gains in the process is worth much more that that which comes easy. By fighting to maintain Judaism in the darkness of Egypt, Jacob's family internalized and lived with the Torah's message much more than they would have been able to living comfortably in the land of Israel. By witnessing this intense growth, Jacob certainly enjoyed the best years of his long life.
This week, my family and I took a trip to Jackson, to visit the Jewish community and meet with some friends. It was a very successful and enlightening trip. And I believe this message from our Parsha can be applied here as well. We, as Jews in Mississippi, mustn't have a "chip on our shoulder", or feel Jewishly deprived. On the contrary! By working on living a Jewish life here, our dedication to G-d and his Torah will be strengthened even more. I want to say a special "Thank You" to the Hoffberg and Gershon families, for being so hospitable and helping make our trip special.
Please keep my Grandmother-in-law, Brondel bas Esther in your thoughts and prayers. She should have a refuah sheleima and enjoy many more happy years.