As Jacob was traveling down to Egypt to meet Joseph, he stopped off in Beersheba, longtime home of his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, and offered sacrifices to G‑d. G‑d then appeared to Jacob and comforted him: “Jacob, Jacob! . . . Don’t be afraid of journeying down to Egypt, because it is only there that I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:2–3). Rashi, the foremost biblical commentator, explains that with these words G‑d was addressing Jacob’s distress at being compelled to leave the Holy Land.

A Jew should be anguished by the prospect of leaving the Holy Land

At first glance, however, G‑d’s message to Jacob does not seem to address his concerns. Jacob was distressed about moving out of the country, but G‑d tells him not to be afraid. Jacob was distressed, not afraid!

It seems clear that G‑d was not trying to mitigate Jacob’s distress; a Jew should be anguished by the prospect of leaving the Holy Land, especially for a culture as depraved as Egypt was in those days. Rather, G‑d was addressing Jacob’s other concerns—his worries about the Jewish education of his children and how they would continue to live as Jews in a hostile environment.

Ever since Jacob descended to Egypt, we have been shuffling from one exile to the next, with only short periods of respite. Galut (exile) is a crucible; the challenges and difficulties of thriving in a hostile world provide the optimal setting for personal and national growth. However, if we become comfortable in our exile and feel that we are in a “home away from home,” we become vulnerable to its insidious effects.

This was G‑d’s message to Jacob: precisely because of your distress at having to live in Egypt, you do not need to be afraid of its influence on your descendants.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual to get occasional reminders that we are still in exile, be it an anti-Semitic comment or a biased news report. It is far better when these reminders are not imposed on us by others, but are of our own volition, making a small move out of our comfort zone and doing something to remind ourselves what it means to be a Jew.1