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 I have always wondered why the Mishnah in Avot singled out our father Avraham as being the person who was tested ten times in his lifetime rather than concentrating on the life of our father Yaakov who, as related in this week’s Torah reading, underwent so many tests and misfortunes. Yaakov finally escapes the clutches of Lavan only to be confronted by the threat of Eisav attempting to annihilate him.

Yaakov is crippled physically, spiritually and financially by Eisav and his angel and mercenaries. Healing and recovering, Yaakov has to deal with the kidnapping and the assault of his daughter Dena by Shechem. The slaughter of the men of Shechem by Shimon and Levi is watched in powerless disapproval by Yaakov and, according to tradition, numerous armed conflicts with the local Canaanite tribes ensued.
Yaakov’s beloved wife, Rochel, dies giving birth to Binyamin. All of this seems to be sufficient tragedy and difficulty for one person’s lifetime, yet we are all aware that the greatest test of all – the conflict between Yosef and his brothers lurks just over the horizon in the biblical narrative.
Though Avraham was tested severely and often in his lifetime, it can seem on the surface to regard the life of Yaakov as more challenging and difficult than that of Avraham. Yet the champion of challenges and tests in Jewish tradition remains Avraham and not Yaakov. Yaakov will later complain to Pharaoh about the troubled life he has led but Jewish tradition does not recognize that statement as being of heroic stature. Rather it seemingly disapproves of Yaakov’s wanting a more leisurely and serene life. That will only be granted to him in the hereafter.
I think that a possible difference between Avraham and Yaakov is that most of the tests of Avraham were explicitly ordained and instructed to him by Heaven itself. God, so to speak, tells Avraham to descend into Egypt, to cast away Yishmael, to foresee the future enslavement of his descendants, to sacrifice his son Yitzchak on the altar at Moriah and to leave his ancestral home in Mesopotamia and settle in the Land of Israel.
Even though Heaven is aware of Yaakov’s travails and ordains them, most of Yaakov’s challenges and difficulties are, to a certain extent, to be viewed as self-inflicted. They stem from choices that he alone made. He chose to listen to his mother and obtain the blessings from his father, fully aware that by so doing he would incur his brother’s violent wrath. He crosses the river to confront Eisav’s angel. He is well aware that Dena’s brothers intend revenge for the abduction and assault of their sister. He openly favors Yosef over the other brothers and therefore human nature of jealousy and resentment must follow.
Apparently self-inflicted tests are not the paradigm that the Torah wishes to establish regarding overcoming difficulties, tests and challenges in life. It seems that Yaakov could have avoided some of the experiences that befell him in his lifetime. The same is undoubtedly true of many of the events of past and current events in the national life of the Jewish peopel.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein  

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