Upon meeting Pharoh for the first time, Yakov and Pharoh have this conversation:
וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה, אֶל-יַעֲקֹב: כַּמָּה, יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֶּיךָ. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, יְמֵי שְׁנֵי מְגוּרַי, שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה: מְעַט וְרָעִים, הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי, וְלֹא הִשִּׂיגוּ אֶת-יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיֵּי אֲבֹתַי, בִּימֵי מְגוּרֵיהֶם – And Pharaoh said to Yakov, “How many have been the days, the years of your life?” And Yakov said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojournings are one hundred thirty years. The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable, and they have not reached the days of the years of the lives of my forefathers, in the days of their journeys.” (47:8-9)
Yakov lived a tremendously difficult life. He had fled his family to live in hiding from his brother; been cheated and overworked by his father in law; been denied marriage to the love of his youth, been betrayed by his firstborn son; seen the rape of his daughter; seen his sons bickering result in Yosef’s disappearance and presumed death for 22 years; and seen Rachel die in childbirth. This was not the future he had sought to create for the Jewish people.
Mishlei 3:2 advises that תורתי אל תשכח….. כי אורך ימים ושנות חיים – my son, don’t forget the Torah… Because it lengthens days and years of life. Life is lived through peace, wholeness and Torah – pain and suffering are not true living. It therefore stands to reason that Yakov says מְעַט וְרָעִים, הָיוּ יְמֵי שְׁנֵי חַיַּי – “The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable,”.
However, the opening of Parshas Vayechi, which addresses the conclusion of Yakov’s life, states:
וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה; וַיְהִי יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו–שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה – And Yakov lived in Egypt for seventeen years, and Yakov’s days; the years of his life; were a hundred and forty seven years. (47:28)
The Torah asserts that at this juncture, just 17 years after “few and miserable”, that וַיְחִי – Yakov truly lived, “living” being the thing he had lacked his whole life, what with all his suffering.
This marks a significant change. Before reuniting his family, he felt his life had been a failure. Now they were together, living in harmony, fulfilling Yakov’s ambitions for creating a nation, יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו – Yakov’s days and years became years of life, to the extent that שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה – he could look back, and his entire life had been worth it in the end, having achieved the harmony he sought his whole life.
The Midrash and Gemara in Shabbos say that a real exile begins in chains and handcuffs; Yakov was spared this in his exile because of his merits. The Nesivos Shalom explains how the brothers could attempt to murder Yosef and then sell him, whilst seeming incredibly evil, was actually their bodies expressing what Hashem wanted, that they eventually wind up in Egypt. The people Yosef was sold to we’re traditionally salesmen of foul scented products, but Yosef was “fortunate” that they were carrying sweet smelling spices on that day.
But it was not just “fortune”, and it was the same with Yakov
There had to be an exile to Egypt. Everything had been calculated precisely. Yakov recognised at the end of his life, that every event in his life had led him to where he was.
Having recognised that all his negative experiences brought him to where he was, he was finally content, satisfied and fulfilled.