Torah thought forFriday 22 Kislev 5783 December 16 2022

Parashat Vayeishev - Difficulties Are Facts of Life, How We Respond to Them is Our Choice

From Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, a grandson of Maran zt”l
(Translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

It states in the Parashah, “Meanwhile, Yaakov settled in the area where his father had lived in the land of Canaan” (Bereishit 37:1).

Our chachamim say that Yaakov sought to live in tranquillity and then the ordeal of Yosef sprung upon him, (meaning that Yaakov wished to live peacefully and suddenly his greatest distress was Yosef’s disappearance). Hashem said, isn’t it enough for the tzaddikim what is ready for them in Olam Haba, why do they further seek tranquillity in this world? Immediately the ordeal of Yosef sprung upon him.

This is extremely difficult to understand. Why would Hashem be concerned if the tzaddikim are in peace both in the next world and this one? Must they suffer? What justice is there that a complete tzaddik like Yaakov Avinu should suffer in this world? Isn’t he fitting for all the goodness of this world!

It is further compounded when we consider Yaakov Avinu. For Yaakov didn’t seek out the “pleasures of life”, he didn’t look for simply rest and peace, rather he sought tranquillity in order to serve his Creator through Torah-study and observing mitzvot! If so, for sure it should have been possible to make this happen for Yaakov! So why did the ordeal of Yosef spring upon him?

Every person, even a person who is altogether G-d-fearing, when he considers himself, he will see that when he dreams of his future, without a doubt he will see that he yearns that he will be financially secure. That he won’t have any worries or frustrations in his life. On the contrary, he thinks it will be easier to fulfil the Torah and the mitzvot. If so, we must understand why didn’t Yaakov Avinu merit to dwell in tranquillity?

In order to understand this we must make the following distinction:

There is “tranquillity” and there is “rest”. It is as if they are two distinct concepts, but this is incorrect. “Tranquillity” means that a person lacks nothing and all of the world’s material and mental matters are completely laid out before him. Such a person won’t worry for anything. When he ascends and continues to progress, even in spirituality, he is honoured amongst people with great honour. His health is good and to wherever he turns his hand he will be smart and succeed. Such a person is called a “chiller”, tranquillity is laced on his face.

Shlomoh HaMelech said about such tranquillity, “and the contentment of fools will destroy them”! (Mishlei 1:32), it isn’t good for a person to enjoy such exaggerated tranquillity! But why?

When a person lives in quiet and complacency and has everything, not lacking a thing and he ascend spiritual levels, there is a forgery! He is essentially dependant on good conditions in this world and if one of them should be taken from him he will immediately be completely undermined and he will lose his spiritual level. Indeed we see this with successful people whose lives are set in peaceful waters but as soon as a small thing goes wrong, immediately they become depressed and unable to function properly.

In contrast to this there is “rest”. A person who is at rest means that they have peace of mind. A person is able to live with peace of mind also when he is lacking. He doesn’t constantly seek to pursue after the pleasures of this world and to attain what others have. He is calm, it is good for him with what he currently has. This is a good way to live for the complete tzaddikim travelled this path.

This is what our chachamim mean, “Yaakov sought to live in tranquillity”, Yaakov wanted to live a life in such a way that matters of this world, the financial, familial and health should all be arranged. After years of suffering, of wanderings and different hardships, Yaakov wanted a little “quiet”.

However Hashem said to him, isn’t it enough for you what you have in store in Olam Haba, that you further seek tranquillity also in this world? This is world is “the home of hardships” [see Sefer HaYashar, Gate 6] and the right setting for a person to excel and to serve Hashem. This is also apparent when a person is squeezed, also when it is tough, in every condition and in every situation! Understandably it is permitted or a person to look forwards to relative tranquillity and to even pray for this. But not to exaggerate and to know there is the main and the ancillary. We must become accustomed to this, so that when things are hard, a person is like a solid rock, not to fall and not to be afraid!

I remember when Maran HaSabba zt”l returned from the hospital (5773, a year prior to his passing) after he had lost some movement in his right hand. Immediately when he returned home, he sat and studied Torah with great joy, literally as if it was a Chag. He toiled tirelessly in Torah-study with peace of mind. This was one day after his hand had weakened so catastrophically! At a time when most people in such a situation would be thrust into depression, he continued with his avodat Hashem, committed and with joy. It was literally unbelievable to see him, how in one eye he couldn’t see, in one ear unable to hear and his hand was almost paralysed, and yet he sat and studied Torah assiduously. With true tranquillity and calm, happy is the eye that witnessed all this! This is true worship of Hashem, in all situations!

We are approaching Channukah. When we think about it we realise that the wicked Greeks didn’t want to kill Am Yisrael. The Greeks were the wisest civilisation at that time and their entire intention was to reduce Torah-study and mitzvah observance. They didn’t denigrate the Torah per se, they wanted people to study it. Rather they wanted certain conditions to be met with it being learnt in elaborate Universities and only in elaborate settings.

The Greeks didn’t want Am Yisrael to study Torah when in difficulty! It bothered them that a Jew is cheapening this world in order to benefit himself by progressing spiritually. They came to Am Yisrael with tempting offers, let us build for you gymnasiums, wonderful Olympic pools, come and be like us, like the most cultured nation!

However, Am Yisrael knew that the Jewish soul is a different story altogether! The value of Torah-study transcends comprehension. The value of purity isn’t dependant on physical conditions but rather only through Am Yisrael’s holiness, which Hashem influenced on our people at Mt Sinai!

Through the strength of that holiness, the Hasmoneans realised  that they have a good chance to succeed against all odds and for a few to fight against the many. Indeed Hashem was with them and they merited to defeat the Greeks and to purify afresh the Bet HaMikdash, to light the Menorah in purity. “For a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light”! (Mishlei 6:23).

Shabbat Shalom!