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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

Yakov’s Living Legacy

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The stage is set, the moment is electric. Yosef has finally come face-to-face with his brothers & been reunited with his father after 22 years of separation. And now Yakov is about to meet Paro. The giant of the secular world & the giant of the spiritual world will have a dramatic "one-on-one."

This is a unique moment in history; all eyes & ears are glued to the scene. What platitudes will they say to each other?

Alas, the exchange between them is puzzling, to say the least. Paro can only manage to mutter, "How old are you?" And Yakov’s response is: "The days of the years of my journeys is 130 years; few & bad they have been, not reaching the life span of my ancestors."

I am mystified by Yakov’s answer. Why does he give what seems to be such a bitter, depressing response, calling his life "short & bad," worse than that of Avraham & Yitzchak? Sure, I understand that Yakov lived from crisis to crisis, enduring the trials of Esav & Lavan, being separated from his favorite son for more than two decades, seeing his daughter kidnapped & raped. He certainly had what to complain about. But is this really the epitaph he wants as his last legacy? Why not focus on all the many positives of his life: His prodigious family, from which will emanate the entire Jewish People; his steely endurance; his victory over the angel; his reunion with Yosef?

I suggest the following: Yakov has been told by Hashem that his children are going into Exile. It is a "vision of the night," a dark portent of what we must endure during the "Gehenom of the Galut" (as the Bal HaTurim calls it). So Yakov, with all his family gathered around him, sends a thinly-veiled message, with words both spoken - AND unspoken! – that his children (if not Paro) can decipher & learn from. This is the message I see him sending:

"My years have been short & bad;" he says, "I’ve had to spend so much of my time away from our land, often among absolute scoundrels. And, unlike my father & grandfather, I will not even have the merit, the z’chut to die in Israel. But - I have survived everything life could throw at me & I have neither succumbed nor surrendered. I have maintained my faith & stayed close to G-d through it all."

"And now you, my children, are destined to spend much of your history in exile, where Jewish lives are often cut short & life is often horrendously bad. So I now charge you: Strengthen yourselves & follow my lead. Do not lose your faith; do not give up, no matter how gloomy things may appear. Survive - & return ultimately to our Land."

Yakov may have thought that he only lived 130 years, but he was wrong: His words live on and he still inspires us - Od Avinu Chai!
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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