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Never Settle for Less

By: Esther Grossman

Our Parsha opens with the following verse:

וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען - and Yaakov settled in the land of his fathers sojournings; in the land of Canaan

The midrash in בראשית רבה (quoted by Rashi) contrasts the word describing Yaakov living in Eretz Canaan, וישב - to dwell, with the word used for his father and grandfather,  מגורי - sojourn. “Settling”, we are told, implies permanency (I am refraining from making any political statements), whereas “sojourn” indicates wandering. The midrash is highlighting that after Yaakov’s many years of exile and difficulties he just wanted לישב בשלוה, to settle down in tranquility, however it is right at this juncture that Yosef’s abduction and sale occurs resulting in many years of suffering for Yaakov. The midrash explains that when tzaddikim seek “shalva” in this world, HaKadosh Baruch Hu asks, “is it not enough, the reward that awaits you in the next world, that must you also reap the benefits in this world?”.

The words of the midrash need further explanation. Why is it considered to be a problem if Tzadikim serve Hashem out of peace and serenity? We even describe Yaakov as איש תם יושב אוהלים – we are not critical of his ישיבה there, so what was so wrong with וישב יעקב here?

Rav Shimon Schwab, in his Sefer מעין בית השואבה, answers this question with the following explanation. Avraham Avinu’s major service to the world was bringing monotheism to the masses. He publicized to all that there was a Master Creator of the world conducting all other creations; He alone runs the world. This is how the Ramban understands:

בראשית 12:8 ויקרא בשם ה׳, Avraham called out Hashem’s Name (to all)

The same statement is said about Yitzchak in בראשית 26:25 ויקרא בשם ה׳. He also invoked the Name of Hashem amongst the people. When we get to Yaakov, we find him building altars in Shechem and Beit El (33:20, 35:7, the lashon of ויקרא is present) and it seems he’s following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. However, when he got to the land of מגורי אביו – of his father’s dwelling, Yaakov sought וישב - implying a condensed service to the public, and he chose to focus inward on his family and not on publicizing the Name of Hashem to the rest of the world. This is what the statement ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה intimates. Rav Schwab is suggesting that Yaakov wanted to focus more personally on his family and not be מקדש שם שמים – sanctifying Hashem’s name - to the masses as Avraham and Yitzchak had done. Therefore the episode with Yosef and his sale to Egypt takes place, forcing Yaakov not to settle and stay put, rather causing him to move, traveling down to Egypt, spreading the Name of Hashem once again, quite publicly. 

It is interesting that individuals who are Tzadikim must always be conscience of the role they play in the public eye. Yet, as a nation, we have this awareness as well a few times throughout the year with the mitzvah of פרסומי ניסא, publicizing the miracles Hashem performed for us. When Chanukah begins this Sunday night we will be broadcasting the Name of Hashem, just like our forefathers. When we light our Chanukiyot in a visible place, at a time when the public is out and about, we are proclaiming, to all, the greatness of Hashem and how He saved us. 

Rav Isaac Bernstein notes, regarding our Parsha, that it begins with Yosef as the favorite son but ultimately Yosef finds himself at the bottom of a pit. He contrasts this with the end of the Parsha moving into Parshat Miketz, when Yosef starts off in jail but then ends up as the second in command to Pharoah. Rav Bernstein asks - what contributes to the rise and fall of an individual? In our Parsha, when Yosef wants people to listen to his dreams, the result is a tumble downward. However, at the end of our Parsha, when Yosef has started to listen to other people’s dreams, the result is the ability to reach higher. 

The Midrash on Vayeishev and the mitzvah of Ner Chanukah, impresses upon us the significance of reaching outward to the public and spreading שם ה׳ – the name of Hashem. May this consciousness of those around us connecting to Hashem allow each of us to flourish in our relationship with G-d as Yaakov ultimately accomplished with מטתו היתה שלמה, all of his family being righteous.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach


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