By: Tanya Cohen
|"Yaakov settled (Vayeshev) in the land of his father's dwelling in Eretz Canaan" (Breishit 37:1) |
In the beginning of this week's Parsha, Rashi questions the very first word - "vayeshev". Why does the Torah specifically use this word and not, for example, the word "Vayechi" (he lived). In order to explain this usage, Rashi quotes the following Midrash (Breishit Raba 84:3):
"Yaakov requested to finally settle (leyshev) in tranquility, when he was suddenly confronted with the kidnapping of Yosef. Although the Tzadikim desire to reside in tranquility, Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to them: Are the Tzaddikim not satisified with the rewards that await them in the Olam Haba (The World to Come) that they expect to live in tranquility in Olam Hazeh (This World) too?"
Several commentators try to understand the deeper meaning of this Midrash. Rabbi Avraham Sofer in his commentary "Ktav Sofer" asks the following question on this Midrash: What is the sin of Yaakov in his wishing to dwell in peace in this world? Why is this so problematic? Is it such a bad thing for Tzaddikim to desire peace in Olam Hazeh? Secondly, he asks, why is the kidnapping of Yosef seen as a consequence of this "sin"?
The Ktav Sofer explains that there is an intrinsic difference between Am Yisrael and the other nations of the world. The other nations seem to be certain that they will attain Olam Haba, whereas in Am Yisrael, even the greatest of Tzaddikim are constantly doubting whether they are worthy of this great reward. This difference in philosophies stems from the original dispute between Yaakov and Esav. Esav saw his inheritance as being in Olam Hazeh. This world was for him an end in itself. Yaa'kov understood that his reward was in Olam Haba and that this World is only a means to an end. Hence Esav could enjoy this world, whilst Ya'akov lived in constant doubt whether he would be worthy of his portion in the World to Come.
Tzaddikim live in constant fear of sinning in this world and thereby losing their share in Olam Haba. The Ketav Sofer writes, however, that when Yaakov returned from Lavan and said "I have lived with Lavan and kept all the mitzvot" (see Rashi on Bereishit 32:5) he thought that he would never sin again. The Midrash also writes that Yaakov, like his father Avraham, was involved in converting many people to Judaism. This is learnt from our Pasuk from the word "eretz megurei aviv" The Midrash understands the word "megurei" as "megyurei" - conversion. Here too, Yaakov thought that since he was involved in doing this great Mitzvah of influencing many people to convert to Judaism, he could not sin. In this way, he thought that he could dwell in peace in Olam Hazeh - that is - without the fear of sinning and with an assurance of his place in Olam Haba. Ya'akov became complacent in his certainty of reward in Olam Haba.
This certainty in one's fate did not find favour with Hashem and he therefore "punished" Yaakov with the kidnapping of Yosef. Why was this the punishment? Rashi comments that Ya'akov had a sign from Hashem that if one of his sons were to die, he would lose his place in Olam Haba. (see Rashi on Bereishit 37:35) Since Ya'akov was now becoming so complacently certain of his place in Olam Haba, Hashem decided to show him that this was not a sure thing and he brought upon him the troubles of Yosef.
If complacency is something that the Tzaddikim have to be fighting against all the time - unsure of their place in Olam Haba, how much more so should we be in a state of constant awareness, careful to use this world in the correct manner, to avoid sin as much as we can, and to do as many mitzvot as we are able in order that we too can attain our place in Olam Haba.
In Derech Chaim, the commentary of the Maharal on Pirkei Avot (2:2), the Maharal quotes our Pasuk through a Gemara in Masechet Sanhedrin 106:2. The Gemara quotes Rabbi Yochanan who notes that every place in the Chumash where the word "Vayeshev" (he sat) is used, it refers to imminent trouble or pain. The following examples are brought down in the Gemara: Yisrael dwelt (Vayeshev) in Shittim followed by "And the people began to commit adultery" (Bamidbar 25); similarly, "Yisrael dwelt (Vayeshev) in Egypt, followed with "And the days of Yisrael's (Yaakov) death drew near" (Bereishit 47) and, of course, the Pasuk in this week's Parsha: "And Yaakov dwelt (Vayeshev)" followed immediately by the sale of Yosef.
The Maharal quotes the Midrash (Breishit Raba 38) which teaches that it is davka places of "sitting" - where man is sedentary - which causes a person to stumble. The Maharal explains the Midrash as follows: A person who is incomplete and yet constantly striving for completion, is in a state of potential perfection. It is impossible for imperfection to attach itself to one who is moving towards potential perfection. When we are working hard to perfect ourselves and to make ourselves "shalem", we are at the same time working against imperfection. It is only when one is static, when one is sedentary and therefore not striving to attain one's potential, that imperfection can attach itself to a person.
I sometimes like to explain this using a mashal of a person on a descending escalator. As long as a person is working and moving - striving to go up against the flow of the escalator, he will succeed in climbing up. However, if a person remains static, he will find himself descending
One of the challenges of this world is to try to perfect ourselves as much as possible as far as out Avodat Hashem is concerned. We do this by avoiding sin and by doing as many Mitzvot as we can. We cannot allow ourselves to become complacent and to think that we are assured of reward in Olam Haba without a connection to our actions in this world. We have to keep on striving in our Avodat Hashem, aiming higher and higher. It is not possible to remain in the same place as far as one's avodat Hashem is concerned. If we are not climbing higher, it means that we are falling back. We never remain in the same place. If we are constantly moving, we will be working on attaining our true potential, however, if we stop working, we can only regress. It is up to us to rise to this challenge.