Guest Posting From Chabakuk Elisha - A 33 Word Complaint
In this past week's Torah portion we read about Yaakov's arrival in Egypt and his conversation with Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked Yaakov, "How many years are the days of the years of your life?" (Bereishis 47:8). To this Yaakov replied to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns." (Bereishis 47:9)
Yaakov's life turns out to be 33 years shorter than his father Yitzchok since Yaakov lives to the age of 147, while Yitzchok lived to be 180. Chazal tell us that he lost 33 years from his life precisely because of the conversation above - one year for each of the thirty-three words of his complaint. [counted from the Hebrew words in the Chumash]
If Yaakov was punished for complaining about his hard life, why were 33 years deducted, when, if you count the words, in actuality only 25 words were spoken by Yaakov and the other 8 words were spoken by Pharaoh?
The question is really the answer. Pharaoh was not making idle chit-chat; he inquired about Yaakov's age out of shock. For, when Yaakov arrived, Pharaoh saw a man who looked to be ancient! Pharaoh was astounded; he thought Yaakov must be hundreds of years old, which prompted his question. Yaakov then answers to say, "No, I'm not so old, I only look old because my life has been so hard." And this is why Yaakov was punished - had he accepted G-d's will with joy, he would not have looked so haggard, and Pharaoh wouldn't even have asked him his age.
If we accept G-d's will with joy, we look it. Yaakov was the greatest of tzaddikim; he should have accepted G-d's plan in a way that would not have prompted Pharaoh's question in the first place. That's why the lost 33 years of his life. We are certainly not on his level, but if we internalize the lesson perhaps it can help us deal with our hardships a little better.