Monday, December 13, 2021

greatness because of the struggles, not in spite of them

I tell my wife all the time that the increasingly prevalent number of grey hairs on my head are a result of aggravation caused by my children, but she reminds me that I am not 20 years old anymore and some people younger than me are much greyer.  I think you see from the parsha that I am right.  When Yaakov comes down to Egypt and meets Pharoah, the Torah (47:9) records just two lines of the conversation that took place between them.  The Torah tells us that Pharoah asked Yaakov how old he was, and Yaakov replied:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יַעֲקֹב֙ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֔ה יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י מְגוּרַ֔י שְׁלֹשִׁ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָ֑ה מְעַ֣ט וְרָעִ֗ים הָיוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיַּ֔י וְלֹ֣א הִשִּׂ֗יגוּ אֶת־יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵי֙ חַיֵּ֣י אֲבֹתַ֔י בִּימֵ֖י מְגוּרֵיהֶֽם׃

The Daas Zekeinim m'Baalei haTos writes that what elicited Pharoah's question was that he saw how grey Yaakov was.  He assumed that Yaakov must be ancient, and so he was curious as to just how old he was.  Yaakov's response was that he was not as old as he looks.  It's not his age -- 130! -- which caused him to have so much grey in his hair, but rather it's the tzaros he faced.  So if at 130 it was not age that caused Yaakov's grey but rather it was aggravation, I can say the same.

The Daas Zekeinim goes on to quote a Midrash that says that for every word of complaint about his tzaros that Yaakov said, one year was subtracted from his life, assuming he should have lived as long as his father.  R' Chaim Shmuelevitz in Sichos Mussar asks: Yaakov lived 33 years less than his father.  Simply count the words and you will see there are not 33 words in his answer to Pharoah.  

R' Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that to make up the difference you have to also count the words in Pharoah's question.  Why should Yaakov have been punished for the question Pharoah asked?  Because had Yaakov been on an even higher level, he would not have let the tzaros get to him and make him grey.  His appearance would not have elicited a comment from Pharoah.

Obviously, so far I've failed to internalize this part of the lesson or my hair wouldn't be changing color yet.

What are we to make of Yaakov's response?  His answer to Pharoah sound like the words of an old man exhausted by life, which is not how we picture a tzadik who is oveid Hashem.  True, the Midrash takes Yaakov to task, but there must be something to be said to make sense of Yaakov's answer as well.

R' Druk explains (see Netziv as well) that when Pharoah saw Yaakov, he did not just see an old man, he saw a holy man.  The gemara says that Yaakov's appearance was a reflection of the beauty of Adam haRishon.  When you look at such a person, you see greatness in their bearing, in their countenance.  Pharoah assumed that to achieve such a degree of shleimus and spiritual fulfillment in life must take an enormous amount of time.  He thought he was looking at someone who must be as old as Yoda to be on that level, and having never seen someone who lived so long, he was curious as to Yaakov's age.  

Yakov answered Pharoah that in fact he was not that old; he was not even as old as his forefathers.  It need not take centuries to achieve the spiritual level he was on because there was a shortcut and fast track to get there.  The fast track is מְעַ֣ט וְרָעִ֗ים הָיוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיַּ֔י.  If you live life resting on a lawn chair in your backyard, then ain hachi nami, you need to live as long as Yoda to become spiritually great.  However, if you face challenges and obstacles and have to struggle and work to overcome them, then you are forced to grow and develop and will become that much greater that much faster.  Bikeish Yaakov la'shevet b'shalvah, but G-d had other plans for him.  Yaakov had to deal with difficulties.  His greatness was not in spite of those difficulties, but because of them. 

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