Genesis 37: (1)Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. (2)This, then, is the line of Jacob: At 17 years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father. (3)Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic. (4)And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him so that they could not speak a friendly word to him. (5)Once Joseph had a dream which he told to his brothers; and they hated him even more. (6)He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: (7)There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf.”
Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
Rabbi David M. Posner
Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings. And he deserved to settle down. Up to this point, it had been far from a happy life for him. At his bris, his father must have invoked the blessing upon him for a life of Torah, a marriage worthy of God’s blessing and a life enriched with good deeds. Three simple and beautiful blessings: Torah, chappah and maasim tovim. But there was no such blessing, and there was no such luck.
Instead, Jacob was blessed with a twin brother whom the midrash describes as an atheistic savage beast, with a mother who lost no opportunity to divide her family as miserably as possible, with a father-in-law who made a slave of him for 20 years, and with 12 sons and one daughter. Life with them was far from easy.
All the poor man wanted was a quiet life with Rachel and the chance to sit under his own vine and fig tree, without intimidation. Instead, Rachel died and Jacob returned home, scared to death that his brother might kill him. So, that’s the life of a patriarch!
That’s why the opening verse of our sidrah — “Jacob settled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” — seems to be welcoming. Thank God, everything is now behind him. All his sufferings are over; all his trials are ended. He settled. He settled down. This first verse of our sidrah is, as the pop psychologists say it, the first day of the rest of his life.
But it was a bad move, a big mistake. The Rabbis knew it. The midrash knows it. And Rashi quotes, telling us that although the righteous seek tranquility, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says, “Are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in the World to Come…that they expect to have it easy in this world too?” Immediately, Jacob is hit with the tragedy of Joseph and his brothers. It’s the very next verse! It’s as though the Holy One was saying to Jacob, “You thought you had it bad before? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
We all can empathize with Jacob. How many of us hope to finish all of our tasks, work at our careers, see our children through all their trials and tribulations, see them leave home…and maybe now comes the messianic age of peace and quiet? Maybe we can downshift a little and take it easy, for a change?
But, no, the Holy One always seems to have other plans. There seems to be no time off, even for good behavior. And you can’t get much better behavior than that of a patriarch. If Jacob wasn’t permitted his golden years, then what can we expect for ourselves…we, who never had any grandiose visions of heavenly ladders in the first place?
Let us resolve to be strong and courageous. As it says in Tractate B’rachot, “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let Thy heart take courage.”
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