In Parshas Toldos, we learn the story of how Rivkah Imeinu convinced Yaakov Avinu to fool Yitzchak Avinu into giving him the brachah meant for Eisav. Yakkov, of course, did not readily agree to this subterfuge and keeps arguing with his mother in order to get out of it. One of his final arguments is "If dad finds out, he'll curse me!" Rivkah's answer is: "Your curse shall be upon me."
The holy Vilna Gaon notes that the Hebrew word for "upon me" - ALAI - can be an abbreviation for three names:
Ayin = Eisav
Lamed = Lavan
Yud = Yosef
In other words, the verse was really saying that as a consequence of what Yaakov was about to do, he would undergo troubles with Eisav, Lavan and Yosef. And that is indeed what happened.
But what is the siginificance of these three tribulations? An answer can be gleaned from a Midrash that Rashi quotes later on in Parshas Viyigash. As many people know, the verse that describes how Yaakov and Yosef his son met after being apart for 22 years details how Yosef fell upon Yaakov's neck and wept but doesn't tell us what Yaakov did. Rashi, from the Midrash, says that Yaakov was busy saying Krias Shema.
Very nice and inspirational but what does it mean? Looking back at the verse from Toldos, one can make a connection. The second verse of the Shema says "And thou shalt love the Lord thine God with all thine heart, all thine soul and and thine wealth." Now note that the "curse" of Yaakov had three components: Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Each of them was a very different test.
With Eisav, the materialistic counterpart to Yaakov's spirituality, the test was simple for Yaakov: he had to stay alive. Eisav thus represented a threat to Yaakov's heart, his physical being. Lavan was different. Until Yaakov attempted to escape from him at the end of Parshas Vayetze, Lavan did not pose a physical threat to Yaakov but rather a materialistic one. He was content to use Yaakov as cheap labour, taking for himself all the profits. He was a threat to Yaakov's wealth. Finally, the loss of Yosef for 22 years was a test of faith. Chazal tell us that Yaakov knew he was the last of the Avos and that he was destined to beget the twelve tribes. If any one of those sons died before founding his personal tribe, it would be a sign that the nation of Israel would not be created and Yaakov would have failed in his life's mission. When Yosef disappeared and was presumed to be dead, this was a terrible blow to Yaakov. Why did he never cease grieving? Because every day was a reminder that he would not complete the task God had set out for him, or so he thought.
Thus when he finally meet Yosef after 22 years, his first thoughts may have been back to "alai". He had completed the tests of Eisav, Lavan and Yosef with his faith in God intact. He could finally say that he loved God with all his heart, soul and wealth, thus he said, in essence, krias Shema.
We are also presented with tests each day, some of them involving our physical beings, some of them our spirit, and some of them our attachement to our physical possessions. May it be God's will that we show the same strength as Yaakov Avinu so that we too can fulfill the mitzvah of the second verse of the Shema.