Yaakov’s Troubles

Yaakov had a difficult life. He had to leave home because his brother, Esav wanted to kill him and then 22 years later, when he returned he was still worried that Esav would still be after him.

Yaakov lived in Lavan’s home while he was in Padan Aram. Lavan tricked Yaakov by giving him Leah as a wife even though he asked to marry Rachel and worked seven years for her. Lavan tricked Yaakov in business as well and made his life very difficult.

Once Yaakov was back in the Land of Cnaan, he thought that things would be quiet. However, at that point his daughter Dinah was raped and Yaakov’s sons, Shimon and Levi took it upon themselves to avenge the rape and kill all of the men in the city of Shechem.

Immediately after, Yaakov’s beloved wife Rachel passed away while giving birth to Binyamin.

Yaakov’s troubles kept piling up and culminated with the sale of Yosef.

The first few words of the second verse in Parshat Vayeshev (Breisheet 37:2) are “Eleh Toldot Yaakov; Yosef…”, “This is the history of Yaakov; Yosef being seventeen years old…”

Why does the verse begin with Eleh (This is)?

According to Or HaChayim, our verse wants to inform us that in spite of all the various trials such as the life and death struggle with Esav and his oppression by Lavan which Yaakov had experienced up until that point in his life, these were all as nothing compared to what he would still have to endure through the sale of Yosef. This is why the Torah commences the paragraph with the word “Eleh”. This word is meant to put his previous problems into a new perspective.

Just one year ago on the Hebrew calendar, we celebrated Chanuka 5780.  Soon after, we began to hear news about the Coronavirus but we didn’t think that it would affect us or the countries that we were living in. And then slowly, over the next few months, Corona travelled around the world. All of a sudden, our lives were put into perspective. Many of the worries that we had before Corona, paled in comparison to how the world would change and how our lives would look just one year later.

The challenges that we overcame in the past may have helped prepare us for the very difficult situation that we are now living in. Our former troubles taught us that we must continue to forge on.

For Yaakov to lose his son, Yosef, Rachel’s firstborn, at only seventeen years old was devastating. However, Yaakov did not give up hope. Even in his darkest days he remained strong and was rewarded by later finding out that in fact Yosef was alive and they reunited in Egypt.

God’s prophecy to Avraham was that his descendents would be strangers in a land that did not belong to them. Their descent to Egypt was inevitable. However, the bright side is that Yaakov and his sons went down to Egypt in style with Yosef being Pharaoh’s second in command. They were treated well and the slavery only commenced once the generation of Yaakov and his sons died out.

Yaakov, who faced so many challenges, was able to remain tough. We can gain strength from him and try our best to remain steady during this difficult time.

When we read through the full Maoz Tzur prayer (not just the first stanza which talks about the rededication of the Temple) we see that throughout history the Jewish people have been under attack by different enemies: the Egyptins, the Babylonians, the Persians and the Greeks yet each time we were saved. We are still in the exile of Edom, Esav’s descendants (Rome) who brought about the destruction of the Second Temple and we pray that the true salvation will come and that Yaakov (renamed Yisrael) will once again prevail over Esav.

May the time come soon when our enemies will stop attacking us and may we see the end of the plague.

About the Author
Sharona holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds.
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