"These are the chronicles of Yakov;Yosef was 17…."
This strange phrasing intrigues the Rabbis, particularly because only the saga of Yosef’s life follows, rather than all the offspring of Yakov. And so – since there are no punctuation marks in the Torah (at least not yet, thank G-d!) the phrase can be read a bit differently:
"These are the chronicles of Yakov/Yosef." Meaning that there is a vivid connection between the two; whatever happened to Yakov during his tumultuous life, would also happen to son Yosef.
Now, usually this is interpreted in a rather negative fashion: Yakov could not get along with his brother Esav; Yosef did not get along with his brothers, either. Yakov was forced to leave his home, and did not see his parents for many years; Yosef also was removed from his home
for decades. Yakov was treated shabbily in the house of Lavan; Yosef suffered numerous indignities in Egypt.
All this is true, but there is another spin to the story that I think is equally accurate, and much more inspirational.
Yakov and Yosef are unique, in that they represent the very first Jewish leaders of nations – Yakov of Israel, and Yosef of Mitzrayim. Now, to be an able and adept leader of people, on a grand scale, one must develop unique qualities. These include enduring hardship, and being able
to rise above it; encountering all different types of people; facing adversity yet, rather than succumbing to it, growing from it. And this is exactly what father and son do.
It is precisely because their lives were so very difficult and challenging that Yakov and Yosef emerged as steeled and savvy leaders who would nurture their people and guide us through the difficult early years. They would also serve as the prime model for our quintessential king, David, who followed a remarkably similar path from trauma to triumph.
But let me share another thought of mine on the special connection between Yakov and Yosef.
Rashi (37:33) quotes a perplexing Medrash that Yitzchak knew that his grandson, Yosef, was alive, yet he did not reveal it to his suffering son Yakov! Why not?! Was this not cruel in the extreme? Various answers are offered by Chazal: The brothers banned everyone - including their grandfather Yitzchak - from telling what happened to Yosef; Yitzchak did not want to reveal that which G-d had kept hidden, etc.
But I suggest there is something much more profound going on here.
Yitzchak had always hoped that there would be a "partnership of power" between the physical and the spiritual worlds. That was his "master plan" for Esav and Yakov; Esav would run the material world and support Yakov, who would lead the spiritual side. But Yakov did not allow it to happen; he kept Dina from marrying Esav - and was punished for it - for Dina could have brought out the good in Esav. Yosef’s rise to power in Egypt, the most powerful country in the world – and his subsequent nurturing of Am Yisrael when they descended into exile - was proof positive that Yitzchak was correct in his plan, that such a bold concept of the spiritual and material working hand-in-hand COULD indeed be fulfilled. And for this reason, Yitzchak kept mum, in order to let events take their course, until Yosef became Viceroy and he was finally proven right, thus creating the precedent for a future, more ideal world when the material and spiritual could complement, rather than compete against each other.