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Bereshit 37:34 (translation by machon-mamre):

וַיִּקְרַע יַעֲקֹב שִׂמְלֹתָיו, וַיָּשֶׂם שַׂק בְּמָתְנָיו; וַיִּתְאַבֵּל עַל-בְּנוֹ, יָמִים רַבִּים

And Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days

Rashi says (loose translation by me):

"ימים רבים" - כ"ב שנה משפירש ממנו עד שירד יעקב למצרים [...] כנגד כ"ב שנה שלא קיים יעקב כבוד אב ואם

"many days" - 22 years since he left him until Yaakov emigrated to Egypt [...] against 22 years that he didn't honor his father and mother

Why did Yaakov deserve that punishment? After all, not only were his life in danger, but also he was commanded by both his parents to go abroad!


More details and sources:

1. He ran for his life. As long as he was in the vicinity of Esav, his life were in danger Bereshit 27:41 (trans. machon-mamre):

וַיִּשְׂטֹם עֵשָׂו, אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, עַל-הַבְּרָכָה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ אָבִיו; וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו בְּלִבּוֹ, יִקְרְבוּ יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי, וְאַהַרְגָה, אֶת-יַעֲקֹב אָחִי.

And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him. And Esau said in his heart: 'Let the days of mourning for my father be at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.'

And you can see that even after all of these years, Yaakov still had the fear that Esav is waiting for the revenge (Bereshit 32:8-9)

2. Rivka has commanded him to escape! As in Bereshit 27:43 (trans. machon-mamre):

וְעַתָּה בְנִי, שְׁמַע בְּקֹלִי; וְקוּם בְּרַח-לְךָ אֶל-לָבָן אָחִי, חָרָנָה.

Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran;

This mitzva should have been in effect until Rivka sends Yaakov a message to come back (see Bereshit 27:45), a message never mentioned to be sent.

3. Yitzchak has commanded him to go! See Bereshit 28:1-2 (trans. machon-mamre):

וַיִּקְרָא יִצְחָק אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ; וַיְצַוֵּהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן. ב קוּם לֵךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם, בֵּיתָה בְתוּאֵל אֲבִי אִמֶּךָ; וְקַח-לְךָ מִשָּׁם אִשָּׁה, מִבְּנוֹת לָבָן אֲחִי אִמֶּךָ.

1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.

Only Yitzchak command was maybe fulfilled after the first 7 years at Laban's service, as he married Leah (Rachel's time of marriage is off-topic). It still doesn't sum up to 22 years...

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Both of his parents commanded him to flee, but only after the need for him to flee arose -- and ultimately that was his doing, though his mother urged him on in that deceit. (That's only 20 years, though...) –  Monica Cellio Dec 9 '12 at 0:50
    
@MonicaCellio since his mother urged him into it and urged him to flee - that'd still be considered honoring her, wouldn't it? –  yair Dec 9 '12 at 7:17
    
Not necessarily. If a parent asks us to transgress we don't do it even though that would seem to be kibbud av. The status of Rivka's request seems murky to me. –  Monica Cellio Dec 9 '12 at 16:13
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1 Answer

  1. The Maharsha to Megilla 16b asks this question and explains that after the 14 years that Yaakov spent in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever before he came to Charan Esav calmed down and Rivka sent Devorah to call Yaakov back. Since he did not return for 22 years he was punished.

  2. The Ben Yehoyada (Ben Ish Chai) writes (Megila 17a): His sin was that he remained for another six years after he married Rochel and Leah. However this gave room for the Satan to claim that he wrongfully stayed even for the previous fourteen years - for the fact that he willingly stayed another six years proved that even if Lavan would have agreed to give him Rochel and Leah immediately he would have wanted to stay there and it was not just because of his parents command.

  3. Sifsey Chachomim (Sif 4) answers in the name of Rabeynu Bechaya (Parshas Toldos): Although his parents commanded him to go the Charan and get married, they intended for him to marry Leah and return immediately. However, Yaakov wanted to marry the more beatiful Rochel and offered to work seven years for her, and was therefore punished for the time he was away.

  4. The Pardes Yosef quotes the sefer Afar Yaakov that Rivka only gave permission to stay in Charan for "ימים אחדים" which Midrash Rabbah explains to mean seven years. Since he overstayed that, he was punished even for the seven years he had permission for. (Or alternatively, those seven years where counted from the 14 he spent in Yeshiva of Shem and Ever first).

  5. The Be'er Sadeh answers that Yaakov was actually the one who caused Esav to get upset by stealing the brochos. For someone on his caliber this was considered a sin.

  6. The Lubavitcher Rebbe asked (Likkutey Sichos vol 5. pg. 407): Kibud Av Vo'em is not one of the seven mitzvos which Bnei Noach are commanded to keep. Even if we say that the Avos kept the entire Torah even before it was given, they were not commanded to so how could they have been punished for not keeping it? He therefore explains that the 22 years that Yaakov did not merit being honored by Yosef was not a punishment for his lack of honoring his own parents. Rather it was in a manner of cause and effect; his actions, although not against any halochos, caused that he was not to get honored for 22 years.

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How do we know Lavan would have given away Leah without any work if Yaakov had initially asked for her? –  Double AA Dec 9 '12 at 1:56
    
First, thanks for your answer! How do we know they inteneded him to marry Leah? Also, Rashi says that Leah's eyes were soft for her crying of being designated to Esav (I'll bring sources if needed). –  yair Dec 9 '12 at 7:14
    
And what about the danger for his life? –  yair Dec 9 '12 at 7:14
    
@DoubleAA Looked up Rabbeynu Bechaya inside and he does not add anything more than quoted by the Sifsey Chachomim. –  Michoel Dec 10 '12 at 0:10
    
@yair See above –  Michoel Dec 10 '12 at 0:12
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