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May a Tzaddik Request Tranquility?

Could it be wrong for a tzaddik to ask for tranquility and must he suffice only with reward in the World to Come?


Rabbi Daniel Mann

Kislev 17 5782
Rashi explains the origin of Yaakov’s problems with the enmity of his sons toward Yosef with the idea that Yaakov "requested to live in tranquility (shalva)." He says that Hashem complains about it and wonders why tzaddikim are not satisfied with having a wonderful lot in the World to Come. Therefore, He initiated the lack of tranquility that surrounded Yosef and his brothers.

Many commentators, including the Alshich are bothered: Could it be wrong for a tzaddik to ask for tranquility and must he suffice only with reward in the World to Come? We would point out that Avraham was promised wealth and Bnei Yisrael were promised great riches upon leaving slavery, and those are certainly pleasures of This World. The Alshich answers that the problem was not wanting such things but asking for them. We can point out, though, that our prayers, presumably recited by tzaddikim as well, including the Yehi Ratzon for Rosh Chodesh and Tefillat HaShelah include requests that seem more "This Worldly" than shalva. Maybe it is a problem only if one initiates his own fervent request for such elements specifically and it is fine to recite general requests made for the masses. Whatever we will explain, let us clarify that this is only an expectation of great tzaddikim, with whom Hashem is very exacting (see Yevamot 121b).

The midrash (Bereishit Rabba 84:3) from which Rashi apparently took this idea is somewhat more "lenient" than Rashi. For one, it attributes the complaint not to Hashem, but to the Satan, as something to instigate about (making it farther from an actual sin). Additionally, it says that it applies to tzaddikim who live in tranquility and ask to live in tranquility. In other words, if one is undergoing difficult times, it is understandable, even for a tzaddik, to ask for a respite. If he is already enjoying such times and it is still on his mind, then there could be some divine dissatisfaction. Indeed, at the time Yosef was sold, Yaakov had been back with his father for close to ten years. So according to the midrash, at that time, the balance of his focus should have been somewhat different.

One of the commentaries of Midrash Rabba, Y’dei Moshe, presents a fascinating idea about the negative element of wanting shalva, which relates to the next passage in the midrash. After finding sources that not only Avraham but also Yaakov converted people, it looks for a source that Yitzchak converted people as well. It learns from our opening pasuk, "Vayeishev Yaakov b’eretz megurei aviv" (Yaakov lived in the land in which his father lived) that megurei refers to the meguyarei (those who his father converted). The Y’dei Moshe goes on that since one is not to convert people when things are too good for the Jews (as it raises the possibility of ulterior motives), if Yaakov had too much tranquility, he would not be able to convert people anymore.

Let us broaden the message of the Y’dei Moshe. Hashem wants his tzaddikim on close to a single-minded, if broad, mission – to spread Torah values as widely as possible. While a certain amount of shalva and even wherewithal could be helpful, a tzaddik should best concern himself only with things that promote success in that realm. Other berachot can wait for the World to Come.
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