In his famous blessing to his grandsons, Menashe and Efrayim, Yaakov prays that “the angel that has redeemed me from all evil” shall bless them and make them fruitful (48:16). In this blessing, Yaakov looks upon his troubled life fondly and gratefully, acknowledging that he had been mercifully spared from “all evil.” He views his life with such appreciation and positivity that he wishes upon his grandchildren the same good fortune that he enjoyed.
We might raise the question of how to reconcile the perspective expressed here with Yaakov’s far gloomier description of his life seventeen years earlier, upon his arrival in Egypt. As we read earlier (47:9), when Yaakov appeared before Pharaoh, who promptly asked him his age, he replied that he was one hundred and thirty years old, and added, “The days of the years of my life have been few and troubled, and have not reached the days of the years of my forefathers…” Here, Yaakov bemoans his difficult life of hardship and adversity, and Chazal in fact criticize Yaakov for complaining about his “troubled” life (see Da’at Zekeinim). Why did Yaakov speak so negatively about his life in his meeting with Pharaoh, but then gratefully acknowledge the “angel” that had assisted him throughout his life, when blessing Efrayim and Menashe?
One simple answer is that the difference lies in the seventeen-year gap between these two statements. Yaakov appeared before Pharaoh immediately after hearing that Yosef was alive, following twenty-two years of bereavement and grief. At this point, the pain and anguish of his troubles were still fresh in his mind, and the emotional wounds that accumulated over his many years of suffering had yet to heal. So soon after his decades of sorrow, he saw his years as “few and troubled.” But after seventeen years of peace and stability, living near his sons and under the care of Yosef, he was able to look upon his life from a far more positive perspective. Although he had endured a great deal of adversity and anguish, the passage of time allowed him to see the “angel” that held his hand throughout his years of hardship, protecting him and helping him at every step of the way.
Generally, periods and situations of adversity seem far harsher at the time than they do later in retrospect and hindsight. When we face hardship, we need to trust that there is an “angel” protecting us from evil even amidst our distress, and the time will come when we will be able to look back fondly and gratefully upon all that transpired, from a fresh, upbeat and positive perspective.
(Based on an article by Rabbi Alex Israel)