Vayeishev: Endless Mourning
Post-Parshah Point: Vayeishev
It's interesting to juxtapose events from the last two parshiyos and gain insight from the timing of seemingly unrelated occurrences.
We are told about Isaac's death back at the end of parshas vayishlach. Sequentially, however, Isaac was still alive when all the events of parshas vayeishev took place - the kidnapping and sale of Joseph, and his life and activities in Egypt as a chief servant in Potiphar's house and then in prison.
In fact, Isaac's death chronologically occurs exactly in between this and next weeks' parshiyos. As per the first verse of miketz, two years elapsed between the chief wine steward being released and his commendation of Joseph to Pharaoh. Isaac died at the end of the first of those two years. (See note* below for detailed proof.)
What is the significance of this timing? We are told that when Jacob thought Joseph had died, his entire family tried to console him, but he refused to be comforted and stated that he would go to his grave still mourning. Chazal tell us that since Joseph was still alive, Jacob's grief and misery couldn't fade. In modern terminology, the emotionally cleansing aspect of the fixed, formal mourning period, the closure that it is supposed to bring, couldn't take place for Jacob.
Then, a dozen years after Joseph was lost to him, Jacob's father Isaac passed away. The mourning duration for a parent is, by ancient Jewish tradition, one year. We can assume that while Jacob observed these twelve months, his focus was more on the recent, fresh sorrow of Isaac's loss. Perhaps it was hoped - by Jacob's family, or even by himself - that when this fixed period of paternal bereavement concluded, Jacob would put aside his perpetual mourning for Joseph as well. But then, when Isaac's aveilus ended and Jacob went right back to grieving for Joseph - when he truly showed that nothing could stem his endless sorrow for his lost son - the time had come for Joseph's rescue, and for the chain of events leading to their eventual reunion, to begin.
May we all merit such Divine redemption, in whatever forms it will take.
*Note: Isaac died at the age of 180 (Gen 35:28). Jacob was 120 at the time, since he was born when Isaac was 60 (25:26). Jacob came to Egypt nine years after Joseph was was promoted by Pharaoh, following the seven years of plenty and two of famine (45:6) and he was 130 years old at the time (47:9). Therefore, Isaac had died ten years earlier, one year before Joseph was promoted.