November 22, 2013
This week’s sedra relates the trials and tribulations of the sons of Jacob and how their anger towards Joseph brought them to sell him into slavery in Egypt. This was the first step leading towards the first exile of the people of Israel.
After selling Joseph, the sons lead their father Jacob to believe that Joseph was torn apart by a wild animal. Jacob mourns his son inconsolably.
We read: Genesis 37:34
“Jacob rent his garments and placed sackcloth on his loins. He mourned his son for many days.”
Many days – There were twenty two years from the time he (Joseph) left him (Jacob) until Jacob went down to Egypt (and saw Joseph again). These correspond to the twenty two years that Jacob did not fulfill the mitzvah of “honoring your father and your mother.”
Rashi shows the correspondence between the number of years that Joseph was away from Jacob his father (which caused Jacob so much distress) and the number of years that Jacob himself had absented himself from his parents, Isaac and Rebecca. The 22 years of Joseph’s absence were Jacob’s punishment for his 22 year absence from his own parents.
Rashi feels that the words “many days” are superfluous. Anyone could make the same calculation that Rashi made and figure out that Jacob was not to be reunited with his beloved son Joseph for another twenty two years. The number of years are all derived from verses in the Torah. So why does the Torah have to add the words “many days”?
Rashi shows us that the words “many days” are intended to draw our attention to the significance of these “many days.” They weren’t just “a long time.” These “many days” were to spark an association and a contrast in our mind with the similar but opposite words that we find in the Torah when Jacob left his parents. His mother told him to flee to Laban her brother for a “few days” (Genesis 27:44). And Jacob himself felt the years he worked for Laban were but a “few days” (Genesis 29:20). These “few days” were paid back as “many days” because of his not fulfilling the mitzvah of “honoring his father and his mother.”
Another “measure for measure” aspect of this punishment is that not only were there twenty two years of Joseph’s absence for twenty two years of Jacob’s absence; there was also deception for deception. Jacob had deceived his father, and his sons, in turn, had deceived him, by letting him think a wild animal had ripped Joseph apart.