Rivka told her son Yaakov that he must take food to his father, Yitzchak, and receive the blessings that her husband intended to bestow upon their older son, Esav—but Yaakov was reluctant. If his father realized, he said, “I will have brought upon myself a curse, not a blessing!”

“And his mother said to him, ‘upon me are your curses, my son, just listen to my voice, and go take for me'” [27:12-13].

What was Rivka saying? Was she risking being cursed herself? Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, the “Genius of Vilna,” says that she was telling her son that she knew, prophetically, what future curses he would face—and they were hinted in the three Hebrew letters of the word “alai,” meaning “upon me:” ayin, lamed, and yud.

These referred to: Esav, Yaakov’s brother, who would hate him and want to kill him; Lavan, Rivka’s brother and father of Yaakov’s wives Rachel & Leah, who would repeatedly deceive him and try to cheat him; and Yosef, Yaakov’s future son, who would be sold into slavery by his brothers, and become viceroy in Egypt while Yaakov mourned him.

Those, she said, would be all the painful challenges he would face, and therefore he had no reason to fear. He would have no painful experience from his father!

This, says Rav Kramer, explains Yaakov’s reaction much later, when his sons told him that they must take the youngest, Benyamin, with them to Yosef in Egypt. He says “upon me was all of this” [42:36], using that same three-letter word. He was saying, I have already experienced all the pains my mother prophesied, and Benyamin was not on the list, so how can you now take him from me?

Though we have no prophets to tell us, today, what to expect, we know that G-d gives a person only the tests and challenges that he or she can face. As terrible as the tragedies and difficulties are that we experience in this world (and we pray that we know no more sorrows), we must remember that G-d wants what is best for us, to help us grow, and that those pains have their limits.

Photo credit: Süleyman Şahan

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