When Jacob is introduced to Pharaoh he gives a brief and depressing review of his life. Pharaoh asks Jacob his age but Jacob feels constrained to add that his years were “few and bad” (Genesis 47:9). This cantankerous inclusion seems to reflect the kind of attitude described by the poet Dylan Thomas who advised: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” In his declining years Jacob can only recall the difficulties and the hardships of his life.
But as Dr. M. Scott Peck, celebrated psychiatrist and author of the classic The Road Less Traveled, observes at the beginning of his book: “Life is difficult.” He goes on to say that most people do not accept this truth. “Instead,” he writes, “they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species and not upon others.”
Peck points out, however, that: “only when we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
Accordingly, Jacob was not simply a grumpy old man dissatisfied with his lot and the circumstances that brought him to Egypt; looking back with regret and sadness at the vicissitudes of his life that he wanted to be otherwise. If this were the case, it would stand in contradiction with the equanimity and even the nobility with which he faces his death less than three chapters later. Rather, Jacob was expressing the fact that he had come to the realization that life is indeed difficult but having accepted that fact, he was able to transcend it.
Hence Jacob is a paradigm for the kind of healthy and happy life that at least one therapist would prescribe for all of us today.