Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Relative Suffering

In Parashat Vayechi we find the patriarch Jacob saying goodbye, and offering blessings and words of wisdom to his loving family.

Before offering parting words to all of his sons, Jacob specifically blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. The language of the blessingThe angel who redeemed me from all evil, may he bless the lads and may my name be declared upon them” (Genesis 48:16) has served for millennia as the spiritual aspiration of all Jewish parents when they bless their children.

Clearly, Jacob faced his share of difficulties during his challenging life. One can make the argument that the angel deputized to protect Jacob from harm should be called to task. Jacob’s parents sent him away, fearing his brother would kill him; he was deceived multiple times by his father-in-law, Laban; Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth; Rachel’s eldest son, Joseph, was attacked by his brothers and sold into slavery (Jacob was led to believe that he was ripped to pieces by a wild animal); despite learning 22 years later that Joseph was still alive and viceroy of Egypt, Jacob was forced to leave his beloved Land of Israel with his family and relocate to Egypt, due to a famine. And there is more.

Can it be said that this an angel redeemed Jacob from tribulations? Arguably, Jacob faced more trials in life than anyone, save for Job.

A story is told about a man, down on his luck, who approached his Rebbe, wanting to know why his life was so difficult. The Rebbe sent the man to find the answer from a certain individual. The man knocked on the door and informed the man to whom the Rebbe sent him why he was there. The petitioner saw unimaginable poverty, illness and agony. When the host was asked about his approach to suffering, he looked up at his guest and responded, “I have no idea why the Rebbe would you send you to me. I am a blessed man with a wonderful life and have no claims against the Almighty.” The petitioner left the house with his answer.

As Jacob faced his mortality, he realized how blessed his life really was, despite the many years of misery and sorrow that he experienced. That positive attitude is the blessing we pass from generation to generation.


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