Don't Dwell On The Past By: Chaim Leib Alper, Grade 9
In this weeks parsha we see an episode transpire between Yaakov and Pharoah. It begins when Yosef brings his aging father Yaakov to the king of Egypt, Pharoah. After receiving a blessing from Yaakov, Pharoah asks Yaakov, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” Yaakov in turn, replies, “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.”This answer of Yaakov has received much criticism from many of the Rabbeim as to the negativity of Yaakov’s response.
Yet one might ask, “It is true! Yaakov had a life that would have driven many people to be pessimists or worse. He had been forced to flee his home by his own brother, cheated multiple times by his father-in-law, and when he finally gets the wife he wants and sets out to go home, she dies along with his mother. Just as he returns home he goes through a traumatizing meeting with Eisav and makes a shaky peace with him. Then, when he finally returns home, his only daughter is kidnapped and abused until two of his sons go and kill out an entire city to get her back. And still, the problems don’t end there; his favorite son, Yosef, seems to have died in a “terrible accident”. After mourning many years for him, Yaakov is confronted with a terrible famine and when he sends his sons to try to get food, they return and tell him that he must let the last son of his favorite wife out on a dangerous journey after the other one had apparently died.
So why is Yaakov criticized for admitting that he had a hard life?
Perhaps we can look at the criticism of the Rabbeim in a different way. Possibly, what Yaakov really did wrong is lingering on all the tragedies of his life and not being relieved at having his favorite son returned to him as a ruler of Egypt. At last Yaakov should be at peace, the threat of his father-in-law and Eisav had been neutralized, his family is safe, and he has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So we see that it wasn’t the most honorable thing that just as Yaakov is getting the life he has wanted he complains that he had a bad life until now. Also, Pharoah didn’t ask for a tale of woe, all he asked was how old Yaakov was.
Another error of Yaakov was that he said that he hadn’t lived as long as his forefathers. But who is he to say that while he is still living! Just because he is old and tired from a harsh life doesn’t mean that he won’t live as long as his fathers.
We can learn from this story that when bad things happen to us, and they inevitably do, we should fight through them and then move on and rejoice with the good we have now and not linger on the tragedies of yesterday.