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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayeshev

Vayeshev

969
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So our father Yaakov wishes to spend the rest of his days in peace and serenity, enjoying his grandchildren and pursuing his spiritual growth. Is that not what all of us wish for ourselves as we grow older and we feel that the major battles of life are already behind us? Yet as Rashi points out based on Midrash, the Lord, so to speak, is dissatisfied with this plan of Yaakov. The great drama of Yosef and his brothers yet lies before him. This situation can be seen as the most difficult test of Yaakov in his life. Lavan, Eisav, Shechem, etc. are all external enemies and Yaakov is steeled to the task of opposing them for such is the way of the world - certainly of the Jewish world. But Yosef and his brothers is a test of internal rivalries and enmities, a situation that threatens to destroy at the end of Yaakov’s life all that he achieved in his lifetime. Yaakov feels that he is entitled to rest on his laurels and savor his accomplishments. He has somehow overcome all of the wiles and aggressions of his external enemies and sees only peace and serenity ahead. He is therefore unprepared for the internal struggle within his own beloved family that in the words of Rashi and Midrash "now leaps upon him." His very longing for the peace and serenity that has eluded him his entire lifetime is his very undoing because he does not choose to see the festering enmities and jealousies that are brewing within his own house and family. Wishes and desires, illusions as to how things should be, often blind us to the realities of how things really are and we are therefore blindsided by events that could have been foreseen had we not indulged so mightily in our fantasy of wishes and illusions.

I think that is what Rashi and the Midrash had in mind when they quoted God, so to speak, that the righteous should not expect serenity in this world. The Talmud even goes so far to say that even in the World to Come the righteous are not at tranquil rest but rather are bidden "to go from strength to strength." We all need times of leisure and rest in order to build up a reservoir of physical and mental strength to deal with the problems and vicissitudes of life. Judaism does not know of the concept or value of "retirement" as it is formulated in modern parlance. It certainly allows for changes in circumstances, occupations and interests. But "man was created for toil." One must always be busy with productive matters - Torah study, good deeds, self-education, etc. - even till the end of life. And one must always be vigilant and realistic about the problems of life - externally caused or internally present in one’s own household - in order to make certain that gains made in one’s earlier years be not squandered by illusions and wishful thinking later in life. This is true nationally as well as personally. We all desire peace and serenity but only realism and vigilance can protect us from our own errors and self-made problems.
Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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