Rashi, in his opening comments to Parashat Vayechi, observes that this parasha is unique in that its text begins immediately after the conclusion of the previous parasha, without any empty space indicating a paragraph break. The first words of every other parasha are set apart from the end of the previous parasha with an empty space, whereas the beginning of Parashat Vayechi is written in the Torah scroll immediately after the end of Parashat Vayigash, without any empty space.
Citing the Midrash, Rashi offers two explanations for this unusual feature of Parashat Vayechi, both playing off the Hebrew word “setuma” (“closed,” or “blocked”), which is used to describe a section which begins without a paragraph break. The first is that Parashat Vayechi tells of the death of Yaakov, which was followed by the enslavement of Benei Yisrael, a time of bitter suffering which caused – in Rashi’s words – the people’s hearts and eyes to be “closed” due to the pain and anguish of bondage. Secondly, Rashi writes, the “closed” nature of this parasha alludes to the fact that Yaakov had wished to reveal before his death the time when his descendants’ redemption would unfold, but this information was “blocked” from him.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary, offers a much different approach for why this parasha is written as a direct continuation of the previous parasha, rather than being marked as a new section:
When one considers that the seventeen years which are introduced hereby are really the only ones in which Jacob lived a quiet undisturbed life, so that, in comparison with the previous years of his life, they can be considered as the real flowering of his life, we should have expected all the more to find the relation of them to be brought into prominence by starting with a fresh chapter. But the fact that this is not the case teaches us that through these seventeen years certainly are to be reckoned with the rest of his life… it was…the troubles years of his life, in which the test had to be gone through, in the midst of the bittersweet fate of a Jacob to be worthy of acquiring the name Israel, that were those in which Jacob won his everlasting national importance, to which the seventeen years that follow here form just the happy rewarding conclusion.
According to Rav Hirsch, the absence of blank space before the beginning of Parashat Vayechi is intended to underscore the fact that the period of which this parasha tells – the blissful final seventeen years of Yaakov’s life – were integrally connected to the preceding years. We might have expected the Torah to specifically set this section apart from the rest of the narrative of Yaakov’s life, as this period differed so drastically from his previous years in that these final years were years of true tranquility and joy. However, the Torah sought to emphasize that the years of hardship were no less important or significant – and in fact could be considered even more important and significant – than his final seventeen years. The point being expressed is that every period of life is meaningful and precious, even those which are fraught with difficulty. Even the less pleasant times in life should be recognized as valuable opportunities, and should therefore be regarded as no less significant than the more joyous and peaceful periods that life brings us.