The opening verse of Parashat Vayechi tells, “Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.” The Meshekh Chokhma finds it significant that Yaakov is described as having lived “in the land of Egypt,” and not specifically in Goshen, the region where he and his family resided. The Torah mentions here only the name of the country, the Meshekh Chokhma suggests, rather than specifying the particular area where Yaakov lived, to emphasize that Yaakov felt and showed concern for the entirety of Egypt, and not just for his narrow circle, for his own family and his own region. He did not seek the welfare of only himself and his family, but rather that of the entire country. Indeed, numerous Midrashic sources tell that the drought in Egypt ended upon his arrival in the country in his merit, and that he blessed Pharaoh that the Nile River should once again overflow its banks to water Egypt’s agricultural lands (Rashi, 47:10). Yaakov saw himself responsible for the entire country in which he resided, and therefore made a point of praying on Egypt’s behalf. For this reason, the Meshekh Chokhma explains, he is described as having lived “in Egypt,” and not just in Goshen.
We may reasonably assume that the Meshekh Chokhma here intends to contrast this opening verse of Parashat Vayechi with the immediately preceding verse – the final verse of Parashat Vayigash. There the Torah writes that Yaakov’s family “resided in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen...” Yaakov’s family is described as residing in Goshen, whereas Yaakov is described merely as residing in Egypt. It is this contrast between two adjacent verses, perhaps, that led the Meshekh Chokhma to his novel interpretation. Yaakov made a point of showing concern for the entirety of Egypt, whereas the rest of his family were guilty of some slight degree of isolationism, withdrawing into their own small circle without sufficiently showing concern for the welfare of the general public.
Rav Yisrael Salanter famously remarked that as an idealistic youth, he thought he could change the world. As he grew older, he realized that he could change only his own locale, and then realized he could change only his family. Eventually, he realized he could change only himself. His intent, of course, was that we need to recognize our limited capabilities and influence, and understand that the world is larger and more complex than we sometimes think, such that people and things are far more difficult to impact than we sometimes think. However, recognizing our limited sphere of influence must never lead us to limit our sphere of concern. The Meshekh Chokhma here teaches of the need to feel concerned about all people and even the entire world, that even when we are limited in our ability to effect change, we must nevertheless feel a sense of responsibility and pray for the world at large, and not merely for those in our narrow circles.