This week's parsha tells of 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 beginning 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 accidentally torn apart by a wild animal. Jacob mourns his son inconsolably.
"Jacob rent his garments and placed sackcloth on his loins. He mourned his son for many days."
Many days - Rashi There were twenty two years from the time he (Joseph) left him (Jacob) until Jacob went down to Egypt (and saw Joseph again). [Rashi then makes the calculation of years.] These correspond to the twenty two years that Jacob did not fulfill the mitzvah of "honoring your father and your mother." [Rashi then shows that Jacob also had remained away from his parents twenty two years, when he fled to Laban's house ].
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi shows the eerie 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.
What would you ask on Rashi? Do you see what is bothering him?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: It seems that 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"?
How does his comment deal with this?
An Answer: 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."
But a deeper look should lead to a deeper question. When you compare Jacob's absence from his parents with Joseph's absence from his father, do see anything strange about the comparison?
A DEEPER QUESTION
A Question: Jacob's parents told him to leave them. And they knew where he was - with Laban, their relative. On the other hand, Joseph's absence was a complete shock to Jacob and furthermore he had no idea whether he was alive or dead. How can these painful years of mourning be a punishment for Jacob's obedient absence from his parents?
A difficult question. Can you think of an answer?
Hint: What led to Jacob's leaving his parents?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: We must remember what led to Jacob's need to flee his brother, Esau, in the first place. He had taken his blessing, had he not? Now let us remember how that came about. Rebecca heard of Isaac's intention to bless Esau. Then she convinced Jacob to deceive his blind father, Isaac, and receive the blessing in place of Esau (Genesis 27:6-8). Jacob was clearly torn between listening to his mother and deceiving his father or not listening to her and not deceiving his father. A real dilemma in how to best fulfill the mitzvah of "honoring your father and your mother." Jacob chose to listen to his mother and deceive his father. A difficult and fateful decision.
The Torah commands us to listen to both our parents. But what if they command two different things? Then what is one to do? The Rabbis have taught that in such a case, both the mother and the child are commanded to honor the father (see Talmud Kiddushin 31a). So in this case Jacob should have honored his father and not his mother and not gone through with Rebecca's plan of deceiving Isaac.
This is what Rashi means when he says "He did not fulfill the mitzvah of 'honoring your father and your mother'." Meaning, had Jacob refused Rebecca he would have been honoring both of them, since the mother too is obligated to honor the child's father. Had Jacob done that, then he never would have had to flee his brother Esau and stay away from his parents those twenty two years.
ANOTHER MEASURE FOR MEASURE PUNISHMENT
We would point another "measure for measure" aspect of this punishment. 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.
And so it goes. One cannot escape the consequences of one's actions.