Parshas VaYeishev- In Search For Serenity

By Sholom Olensky


This week in the Torah:

Jacob settles in his father’s land, in Canaan. For nine peaceful years. Until his favorite son, Joseph, is taken from him (although, unbeknownst to him, temporarily). Jacob remains in the land of his father, but is devastated.

The commentaries:

Jacob wished to settle into serenity, but the trouble with Joseph sprang upon him. The Holy One, blessed be He, says, “It is not enough that I have assigned rest for the righteous in the World to Come. They seek rest in this world as well.”


The above commentary seems to imply that perhaps the righteous should not seek serenity in this world. However, through deeper analysis it seems that since they are truly righteous and this beseeching for serenity is a common theme of their prayers, why would G-d not be satisfied by their request?


G-d is certainly satisfied by the righteous’ request for serenity. For, their request is not for physical comfort and bodily rest, rather a spiritual one; beseeching G-d to remove from them the disturbances that hinder their serving their Maker. A delay in their deliverance on the part of G-d, however, does not contradict this.


Why the delay, then?


In Jacob’s case, those nine years, before Joseph’s going missing, were indeed serene. Hence, G-d did actually fulfill his request. The troubles with Joseph were a means to increase Jacob’s saintliness so as to grant him an other-worldly serenity, similar to the experience of the World to Come. Indeed Jacob lived the last seventeen years of his life united with all his family in the, then, hospitable Egypt.


While Jacob’s suffering in the hands of his father-in-law, Lavan, and his brother, Esau, was harsh, it held a form of sense for Jacob; the struggle between holiness and the opposite. Joseph’s disappearance made no sense whatsoever to Jacob; in fact, it just dragged him down.

Commensurate to the suffering is the ensuing serenity…. Jacob’s previous nine years of serenity, were natural; they were naturally his because he earned them and prayed for them.

Jacob’s serenity, experienced in his twilight years, upon his reunion with Joseph, was in Egypt! Relative to the decadent Egyptian surroundings, Jacob and family experienced a miraculous, spiritual oasis in the choicest of Egypt’s provinces. Likewise, his spiritual awakening there was a reflection of the World to Come.


If the later serenity was so much more sublime, why did G-d wait with it until “Jacob wished to settle into serenity”?

Answer and Lesson:

G-d desires the prayers of Israel. Jacob prayerfully wished for serenity, and then G-d gave it to Him.

We must all pray for spiritual serenity.

Indeed, Jewish law and wisdom establishes and enlightens our daily, formal prayers with the cry of the Jew seeking the return of the Divine Presence, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the return of the Holy Temple therein, in the true and complete (spiritual serenity and actual) Redemption.

(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 30, Vayeishev)

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