When You Get What You Wanted in a Way You Didn’t
"Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life" (Gen 47:9). Jacob's sombre summary of his own life echoes with a kind of complex solemnity against all that we have seen him undergo. He has, after all, achieved everything he aspired to achieve: the birthright, the blessing, marriage with his beloved Rachel, progeny, and wealth. But one measure of the profound moral realism of the story is that although he gets everything he wanted, it is not in the way he would have wanted, and the consequence is far more pain than contentment. From his "clashing" (25:22) with his twin in the womb, everything has been a struggle. He displaces Esau, but only at the price of fear and lingering guilt and long exile. He gets Rachel, but only by having Leah imposed on him, with all the domestic strife that entails, and he loses Rachel early in childbirth. He is given a new name by his divine adversary, but comes away with a permanent wound. He gets the full solar-year number of twelve sons, but there is enmity among them (for which he bears some responsibility), and he spends twenty-two years grieving over his favourite son, who he believes is dead. This is, in sum, a story with a happy ending that withholds any simple feeling of happiness at the end.
- Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses, 273 (emphasis added)