At the beginning of this week’s Parasha, the Torah tells us that Yaakov lived to the age of one hundred and forty seven years. Many ask: why didn’t Hashem allow Yaakov to live one hundred and eighty years, like his father, Yitzchak? Was Yaakov any less of a Tzaddik than his father that he deserved to live thirty three years less?
The Daat Zekeinim MiBaalei HaTosafot answers that Yaakov lost thirty three extra years due to an incident in last week’s Parasha. When Yosef takes Yaakov to meet Paroh when he first arrives in Mitzrayim, Paroh asks Yaakov a puzzling question, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” (Bereishit 47:8). Yaakov responds, “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 days of the years of the lives of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns” (47:9). The Daat Zekeinim asserts that since Yaakov complained to Paroh about all the troubles he experienced during his life instead of praising Hashem for having lifted him up from those tribulations, he lost thirty three years of life. The relevance of the number thirty three, according to the Daat Zekeinim, is the number of words in the Torah from Paroh’s question until the end of Yaakov’s complaining response.
Rabbi Malitzky of TABC told me that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, in Sichot Mussar, asks two questions regarding Yaakov’s encounter with Paroh. Firstly, why would Paroh, a man of royalty, ask an old man whom he has never before met to tell him his age? It seems rude to ask a person his age before ever getting to know him! Secondly, according to the Daat Zekeinim’s explanation, why should the Pasuk with Paroh’s question (which has eight words) be included in the count of words for which Yaakov was punished? Yaakov didn't say these words!
Rav Chaim answers that the reason that Paroh asked the question was because there was something that stood out about Yaakov. Yaakov did not just look like an old man; rather, he gave off the impression that he was someone who was unhappy due to many years of suffering. This also explains how Paroh’s question can be included in the words for which Yaakov was punished – the question came about only as a result of Yaakov's outwardly unhappy appearance.
Rav Chaim’s point can explain an interesting pair of Mishnayot in Pirkei Avot. In 1:15, Shamai states a very well known phrase, “Havei Mekabeil Et Kol HaAdam BeSeiver Panim Yafot,” “You should greet every person with a pleasant countenance.” In 3:12, Rabi Yishmael says a very similar statement, “Havei Mekabeil Et Kol HaAdam BeSimchah,” “You should greet every person with happiness.” Aren’t these two statements exactly the same? The answer may be that the two are addressing two different aspects to greeting a person. One thing needed is to greet with nice, friendly gestures. However, Shamai is teaching us that saying nice words is not enough. Rather, the face we show to others is also important; saying kind words does not suffice without a pleasant facial expression.
Although Yaakov flawlessly handled many trials he faced in his lifetime, such as running from Eisav, working for Lavan, the Dinah trauma, and losing Yosef (these specifically are listed by the Daat Zekeinim), his flaw emerged afterwards, in his retrospection of the events. Instead of rejoicing and praising Hashem publicly for having been saved from each of the trials, Yaakov did what anyone else would have done: he sighed about his suffering. The lesson to learn from Yaakov is to always recognize the good in the trials we face, although finding the bad is the easier thing to do. In addition, we learn from Yaakov that even if one is unhappy with difficult circumstances, that does not give him permission to show his unhappiness to others. He must try his utmost to wear an expression of happiness, as difficult as it may seem.