VAYECHI (Genesis, 47:28-50:26) — “Put on a Happy :-) Face!”

(INTRODUCTION: I am always apprehensive about citing Biblical or Talmudic references that are critical of Biblical personalities.  We must be extremely wary of viewing the Patriarchs in the same way that we look at our contemporaries.  It is important to remember that Jacob was a man who wrestled with an angel.  Judah and Joseph and his brothers were chosen by G-d to lead the Tribes of Israel.  These people were barely mortal; the Talmud says that we would be more accurate in viewing them almost as angels. 

When the Torah speaks of misdeeds by these spiritual giants, it refers to conduct that might not even be recognizable to us as inappropriate.  Rather, it is just that G-d holds the righteous to a higher standard.  Therefore, actions that are “microscopically” incorrect are magnified in perspective. 

We will, G-d willing, discuss this concept in fuller detail next week.) 

——————————-

The days of Jacob’s life were 147 years.  The time drew near for Israel to die… (Genesis, 47:27-28) 

The Midrash observes that this is an unusual terminology.  Whenever the Torah refers to death “drawing near,” it is a reference to the person not living as long as his father had.  Apparently, the implication of drawing near is that death comes sooner than we might have otherwise expected.  In Deuteronomy, 31:14 and 1Kings, 2:1, we see similar phases in reference to Moses, who died at the age of 120, seventeen years younger than his father, and King David, whose 70 years were ten years shorter than his father’s. 

Jacob, too, lived a shorter life than his father did.  Isaac lived until the age of 180, while his son Jacob only reached 147.  

Our Sages tell us that there was a reason for this 33-year deficit. In a sense, Jacob had decreed it upon himself seventeen years earlier. 

Last week we read of Jacob’s meeting with the Pharaoh.  Ramban — Nachmanides explains that the Pharaoh was taken aback by Jacob’s appearance.  While the early chapters of the Torah describe people living for several centuries, this phenomenon was no longer common at that time.  The king had never seen anyone who looked so old!  Jacob explained that he wasn’t as old as he looked.  His struggles with his brother and his uncle had taken their toll.  The abduction of his daughter Dina and the disappearance of Joseph had worn him down. 

Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How many years have you lived?”  Jacob responded, “The days of my travels have been 130 years.  They have been few and hard, not reaching to the life spans of my ancestors in their travels. (Ibid, verses 8 and 9) 

Several commentaries quote the Midrash that says that Jacob was taken to task for that statement.  G-d said to Jacob “I saved you from Esau and Laban!  I re-united you with Dina and Joseph!  And all you can say is that the years of your life have been few and hard?!” 

As a result of Jacob’s negative description of his life, he was punished with a shorter life.  He said that he had not (yet) reached his father’s age.  Indeed, he never would.  The conversation between Jacob and the king consists of 33 words (in the original Hebrew).  As a result of that conversation, 33 years were deducted from Jacob’s life.  Instead of reaching his father’s age of 180, Jacob only lived until 147.

———————

There is a problem with the numbers.  Let us look at the conversation again:                                                                                                                                               

Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How many years have you lived?”  Jacob responded, “The days of my travels have been 130 years.  They have been few and hard, not reaching to the life spans of my ancestors in their travels. 

The conversation begins, Pharaoh asked Jacob, “How many years have you lived?”  Those eight words (in Hebrew) shouldn’t count!  If G-d wanted to punish Jacob for showing a lack of appreciation by complaining, why didn’t he start counting the words from Jacob’s response?  Why punish him for Pharaoh’s question? 

I heard (or read) this answer many years ago; I don’t remember the source.  (If any of my readers recognize it, please let me know.) 

Jacob was not only bitter in his response.  It seems that his whole demeanor was one that said to the observer, “I am an old and broken man.” 

It wasn’t just Jacob’s reply that G-d was criticizing.  The problem was that he carried himself in a fashion that led the Pharaoh to ask the question in the first place.

———————

Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the “Alter (‘Elder’) of Slobodka” once chided a student for walking into a room with a frown on his face.  “You are a thief!” he said.  “Your face is a “Reshus Harabim” — public property.  You have no right to allow your problems to ruin someone else’s day!” 

There is a lady I know who just celebrated her 90th birthday.  You’d never know it; I would probably guess that she is in her mid-seventies.  I rarely see her without a smile. 

She once confided in me about the death of her husband.  He was a friendly, soft-spoken man who was honest in business and active in his synagogue and community.  One day a robber came along and mugged him.  He spent several weeks in the hospital.  And then he died.  The assailant was never found. 

We spoke about the apparent unfairness in life.  We spoke about the fact that the murderer got off scot-free. I told her that G-d has a very long memory; in time, the criminal will get his due. 

Of course, it is easy for me to say.  She’s the one who lost her life’s partner.  She is the one who has had to grow older without her beloved husband. 

Yet, she is not bitter.  She prefers to focus on all the good things G-d has done for her.  She speaks about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  They are her pride and joy and reason for living.  “I want to be at the Bar Mitzvah,” she says.  “The weddings, too!” I added. 

(It is important to emphasize that no one has a right to tell a person to just “grin and bear it.”  It is the epitome of presumptuousness and arrogance for us to curtly tell others to accept their circumstances with faith and a smile. Our job is to recognize other people’s sorrows, and to help them, if we can, to bear their burdens. 

Rather, the point is that this is what we should try to tell OURSELVES when challenges and adversity come our way.) 

I meet Holocaust survivors who display the same attitude.  While silently enduring their own private hells on a daily basis, they keep pushing forward.  Rather than grappling with the unfathomable questions of “why,” they focus on G-d’s Providence that allowed them to survive. 

Are these people bitter deep down?  Is the smile a mere mask to hide their anguish?  Perhaps.  But a smile is contagious.  If you work hard enough to convince yourself that you are happy, you will eventually find reasons to agree. 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

———————————————————————————

From the Archives

 

“A Grandfather’s Blessing” (2009)

 

G-d has sent a bundle of blessing to our family.  My daughter, Chaya Miriam Goldenberg, just gave birth to a little boy.  We have now been blessed with two grandsons, בלי עין הרע…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Any Maccabees Around Here?” or, “Father Knows Best” (2008) 

We recently completed our celebration of Chanukah. The heroes of the Chanukah story are the Maccabees.  Have you ever met a Maccabee? Actually, a more accurate question is, have you ever met a Hasmonean? … 

The Hasmoneans were a family of Kohanim – Priests who overthrew the Syrian Greeks who had defiled the Temple and tried to destroy Torah Judaism.  Nachmanides writes that the Hasmoneans were “pious and lofty men, without whom the Torah and Commandments would have been forgotten from Israel.” (Nachmanides’ Commentary to Genesis 49:10) 

No, you have never met a Hasmonean.  And you never will.  The family is extinct… 

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Forgotten but Not Forgiven?”  (2006) 

Someone I know was attending Services in a crowded synagogue in Jerusalem.  While taking the required three steps back at the end of the prayer, a fellow accidentally stepped on his toes. 

Slichah!,” (literally, “forgiveness,” in other words “I’m sorry”), said the toe-stepper. 

Since it was during a part of the Service when it is preferred not to speak, the fellow simply nodded in a way that indicated, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” 

Well, it WASN’T okay, and he DID worry about it. “Tagid ‘Salachti!’” (“Say, ‘I forgive you!’”) 

Only after the “aggrieved party” officially forgave the toe-stepper did he relent.  “Salachti,” he said, and the incident was over… 

… all’s well that ends well, right?  Everyone recognizes that the sale of Joseph was part of G-d’s divine plan to provide for the People of Israel during the famine.  Yes, they did something wrong, but it was G-d’s will, and Joseph wasn’t angry.  Everything’s okay, right? 

Well, not exactly.  There is one thing missing.  As the rabbi in Jerusalem told my friend, “Tagid ‘Salachti!’”  — “Say, ‘I forgive you!’”…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Mama’s Tears” (2005) 

… For twenty years, Israel was a memory from my past, and a some-day hope for my future.  Finally, about five years ago, when my daughter was studying there, I had cause to go back for a short visit… One of my stops was Rachel’s Tomb, in Bethlehem… I wasn’t prepared for what met me inside…                   

Now, I am not what you would call a particularly emotional person.  What was it that caused me to react in that way?  There was nothing in my particular prayers that would normally have led me to cry.  So what was it? 

It was Rachel… 

Read more .

————————————————————

“Payback Time” (2004) 

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. 

… Joseph had been very patient.  His brothers, who had sold him as a slave nearly four decades ago, were now under his control…  in the presence of their father Jacob, Joseph had treated his brothers well.  But now, Jacob was dead.  It was payback time.  

Joseph’s brothers … had reason to be concerned.  Joseph just wasn’t acting the same….  Clearly, Joseph was not happy with his brothers.  What could he be planning?  Had he taken his cue from their Uncle Esau, who had designated the anticipated demise of his father as an opportune moment to kill his brother? 

The brothers felt that they had to do some damage control… 

Read more.

——————————————————————

“Put on a Happy  🙂 Face!” (2003) 

… The days of Jacob’s life were 147 years.  The time drew near for Israel to die… (Genesis, 47:27-28) 

 …Jacob … lived a shorter life than his father did.  Isaac lived until the age of 180, while his son Jacob only reached 147… the Pharaoh was taken aback by Jacob’s appearance.  While the early chapters of the Torah describe people living for several centuries, this phenomenon was no longer common at that time.  The king had never seen anyone who looked so old!  Jacob explained that he wasn’t as old as he looked… 

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“When Angels Came Early To Monsey” (2002) 

… As I sang “Shalom Aleichem,” I looked across the room at Miriam. She was mouthing the words as I sang … I felt like crying. Could it be, I wondered, that the angels came early today?!… 

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Promises, Promises” (2001) 

… Jacob had lived a long life, and it was time to pre-arrange his funeral. The Egyptians held Jacob in high esteem, and the last thing he wanted was to end up under a pyramid…

Read more.

———————————————————————————

“Kindness and Truth” (2000) 

… If I visit you when you are not feeling well or help you jump start your car when the battery dies, I know that there is a possibility that when the tables are turned, you will be there for me. This does not apply in the case of the dead. If you put yourself out to attend someone’s funeral, you can be sure that he won’t come to yours!… 

Read more.

———————————————————————————

This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

———————————————————————————

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

———————————————————————————

If you enjoyed this e-mail, send it to a friend.

To subscribe to this mailing, send an e-mail to Torahtalk@gmail.com, and type “Subscribe” on the subject line.   To unsubscribe, type “Unsubscribe” on the subject line.

Advertisements
Published in: on December 22, 2004 at 7:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: