Torah Fax

Friday, December 3, 2004 - 20 Kislev, 5765

Torah Reading:  Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 - 40:23)
Candle Lighting time: 4:10 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:14 PM
Early Retirement?
Our Parshah begins with the words: “And Jacob resided in the land of his fathers.” The more literal translation of the word “resided” is “sat” or “settled.” Rashi, citing the Midrash, says that Jacob desired to finally settle and relax in Israel. After having experienced numerous problems in his life - both from his brother Esau wanting to kill him and his father-in-law Lavan inflicting him with hardship and labor for 20 years - Jacob at long last wished to settle down and live in peace.
The operative word here is “desired (to live in peace),” for - as the Parshah tells us - Jacob's life from this point on is anything but tranquil; Jacob has to deal with many new problems brought about by the sibling rivalry which develops between Joseph and his brothers. It was not until much later, for the last 17 years of his life, that Jacob was finally able to live in peace.
To quote Rashi: “Jacob wanted to dwell in peace and the tragedy of Joseph was sprung upon him...G‑d says: ‘Is it not sufficient that you righteous have a great reward waiting for you in the Next World? Do you also want to dwell peacefully in this world?’”
Commentators explain that Jacob's desire to enjoy peace in this world was out of place for it was an indication that he accorded greater importance to this physical world than to the Next World.
But this answer seems hard to accept. Is it logical to assume that a man as holy as Jacob, whose entire life saga was one of absolute devotion to G‑d, should make the mistake of considering this world more important than the World to Come? Furthermore, if Jacob’s desire to dwell in peace was misguided, why did G‑d eventually grant him that request for the last 17 years of his life?
Being a completely righteous person, it is obvious that Jacob’s desire for peaceful living was not merely based on a pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment, but stemmed from a desire to be able to completely devote himself to serving G‑d without any distractions or obstacles.
Indeed, this is how Maimonides describes the excitement that our sages had for the Messianic Era. It was not the physical pleasures or material delights for which they yearned. Rather, it is because Moshiach is associated with a peaceful existence in which one will be free to pursue spirituality that the sages looked forward to his arrival.
But this reverses the question raised earlier: if indeed desiring a peaceful existence was a lofty and good pursuit on the part of Jacob, why was G‑d so critical of it?
The answer is that there is an appropriate time and place for everything. True, to desire a peaceful, blissful state in which one is free to pursue G‑dliness is good, but only after one has done all that he possibly can to change the world. Very often, issues must be attacked head on and walls which seem to conceal G‑dliness must be broken through - in order to make this world into a dwelling place for G‑d. In order to enjoy serenity, one must first expend much effort in refining and changing the world.
In Jacob's case, G‑d had one more hurdle for him to clear before he would be able to reap the benefits of his work in refining the world. G‑d wanted him to be involved in Joseph's descent into Egypt.
True, Jacob had already dealt with - and “refined” - the lowest forms of creation, Esau and Lavan, and Mysticism teaches us that he succeeded in extracting many sparks of holiness from them, but the descent into Egypt was an even greater challenge which promised to reap even greater spiritual reward. Egypt was considered the very source of spiritual impurity. The spiritually lower a situation is reflects the greater magnitude of holiness that is ready to be revealed, when the challenge is met with.
When Jacob’s son, Joseph, not only avoided succumbing to the temptations and impurities of Egypt, but actually became its ruler - teaching the Egyptian people about the oneness of G‑d (as is discussed in later Parshas) - he succeeded in bringing out some of the potential holiness hidden in that accursed land. At that point, Jacob was finally able to reap the benefits of his life’s work and have a sampling of the life of the World To Come.
The message for us is clear: we dare not become complacent in our service of G‑d. Our desire to “live in peace” with the coming of Moshiach has to be coupled with a redoubled effort to leave “no stone unturned” in our efforts to refine the world and uncover the potential G‑dliness hidden in every corner of the globe. Then, indeed, we will merit to live in peace together with our righteous Moshiach!
Moshiach Matters
Rabbi Meir said: "From where do we learn 'Resurrection' in the Torah? From the verse, "Moshe and the Children of Israel then sang this song to G‑d". The literal meaning of the verb is not "sang" but "shall sing." Thus the Resurrection of the Dead is taught in the Torah. (Sanhedrin, 91b)
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