ILLEGAL, IMMORAL AND FATTENING
Life really stinks. There are so many things in life we canâ€™t have. Luxury is out of our budget. As one gentile put it, all the good stuff in life is illegal, immoral or fattening. Life is so complicated and frustrating , full of expectations that we have that arenâ€™t met. Life is what happens, while we are busy making plans. Man plans, and G-d laughs. How depressing. Life is somewhat pointless.
Or, life is really awesome. It is one incredibly amazing adventure, the most captivating fairy tale. It is an ongoing challenge of faith, self-improvement and self-actualization. Expectations and assumptions are the parents of frustration, disappointment and misery. G-d and His World owe you nothing. He was here before you, and He will manage fine after you are gone. He does not need you, but He loves you like crazy, and He gave you this 120-year opportunity to live an amazing life. Life is so beautiful, for no matter how many times we mess up, G-d is waiting for our return. G-d is awesome, and life is an opportunity to express this message to the world. Life is full of meaning, to serve G-d and to develop a relationship with Him. Life is an opportunity to be G-d-like and to sanctify G-dâ€™s Name. Life is an opportunity to use everything G-d gives us to serve Him. How enlightening.
So, whoâ€™s right about life? The pitiful or the positive? They are both right. Because life is like a mirror; it reflects how you look at it. If you love life, life will love you back. Life is not as much what happens to you, as much as it is how you respond to it, how you interpret it, and what you make of it.
There was a Chassidic Rebbe, who took his Chassidim to a simple, 105-year-old man, to get a blessing. If he reached such an age, he must have had some merit for his longevity. Wrinkle-free Mr. Old Man lived at the edge of a farm. After getting the blessings they wanted, they asked him for his secret. What is the secret of your longevity, Mr. Old Man? â€œI never asked questions; I do not need to know why things happened. G-d does not explain Himself in this world; He waits till you get upstairs to let you understand. If you ask too many questions, G-d, in His kindness, brings you Upstairs early, to let you know the answers, so that you do not have to think too hard trying to figure out your life by yourself.â€
In Parashat Vayechi, we see how Yaakov was given his greatest punishment for something he said to Pharaoh in last weekâ€™s parasha. The Hebrew word ×•×™×—×™ is the numerical value of the good years that Yaakov had in his life. 34. 17 years from Yosefâ€™s birth until Yosef was taken away from him, and 17 years from his reunion with Yosef, until his death. Yaakov lived 33 years less than his father, Yitzhak. 33 beautiful years, golden years, were taken from him! Why? Because when Pharaoh asked him how old he was, his answer was â€œThe years of my life were small in number, and bad. I did not live as many years as my ancestors.â€Â Â Yaakov lost a year of life for each of the 33 words that were spoken between the two. Hashem said to Yaakov, â€œWhat is all this complaining? I gave you back Yosef, I saved you from the hands of Esav, and you came out on top with Lavan; so, why are you complaining?â€
Now, of course, Yaakov had what to complain about. You could look at the beginning of each story and cry, or you could look at the end of each story and laugh. All the turbulence of Yaakovâ€™s life had reason, and in the long run, Yaakov benefitted from every single difficulty that he went through. Because he ran from Esav, he learnt 14 years and built a family. When he was with Lavan, he built himself a livelihood. When he finally rejoined Yosef, Yosef was able to support Yaakovâ€™s entire family in the time of famine. Allâ€™s well that ends well. Even Dinahâ€™s defilement, had a good ending to the story. Her daughter from Shechem, Osnat, was sent down to Egypt, and, oddly enough, ended up being the girl that Yosef married! Osnat was the mother of Menashe and Efraim! We know that in Yaakovâ€™s conversation with Esav, Yaakov looked at the good in life. So why, now, was Yaakov focusing on the negative aspect of his life? Yaakov, one of the greatest men ever, could have complained many times in his life, but he did not. Why was now any different?
The answer is that he was talking to Pharaoh, a materialistic gentile. Go explain to Pharaoh the pleasure of having 12 children that are the 12 Tribes, of having a Shabbat table, of learning 14 uninterrupted years in Yeshiva with a connection to G-d, without sleep, of getting a blessing from your father that cost you having your bed at home. For a gentile like Pharaoh, fun means immoral, illegal and fattening. Good life means, to the materialistic, having what most people want, but cannot have. But Yaakov, on his level, was punished, for that is not the way to talk about life, the life of a Jew. Even if you are talking to a materialistic gentile, or someone who does not understand the inner beauty of Jewish life.
I just recently spoke to a friend who left Kollel and went into Kiruv. He relayed to me that he never realized how lucky we are, those who are in the Ultra Orthodox, Chareidi system and part of the religious community. We have life with structure; we have a normal life, even if our lives have trials and tribulations. The things we want are legal, moral and nutritious, and more important: the things we want are spiritual. When I asked my Rebbi what to look for when I am looking to buy an apartment in Israel, he answered, â€œThree things. A place for a Sukkah. A good spot for your Menorah, and a location that is right next to your favorite Beit Midrash.â€ Our life has so much good to be thankful for! If only we could see it and stop asking why things arenâ€™t better.