Jacob leaves the Holy Land once again, this time to travel to Egypt, where he is to be reunited with his long-lost son, Joseph. Before he leaves, God promises Jacob that He will both accompany him there and return him to his homeland. But God promises something further and rather cryptic: "and Joseph will place his hand over your eyes".
The commentators offer different explanations of this phrase. Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno suggests that it means that Joseph will take care of Jacob's material needs; Jacob himself will not need his eyes in order to supervise these for himself. Ibn Ezra interprets the phrase as a promise that Joseph will be there to close Jacob's eyes when the time comes for him to depart this world.
In our own day, Rabbi Baruch Gigi of Yeshivat Har Etzion offers a spiritual explanation. Joseph will guide his family's Jewish path in Egypt, for despite having lived there for so long and having reached the pinnacle of political power, he has remained faithful to the teachings of his forebears. He will place his hand over Jacob's eyes as one does when reciting the Shema, accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whichever reading one prefers, the divine promise to Jacob takes on added resonance, coming as it does close to the end of the Book of Genesis. Throughout Jacob's life, hands have been placed over eyes in order to mask the truth and deceive. Jacob himself, for example, deceives his blind father over the blessings. Laban tricks Jacob, who can see only "in the morning that it is Leah" rather than Rachel (Genesis 29:24). Now, at last, in the twilight of his life, the placing of hands over eyes is redeemed by Jacob's beloved son.