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Rest and Relaxation

Vayeshev (Genesis 37-40 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

Don't we all crave those moments in life of rest and relaxation? Many of us may even use such times for spiritual meaning and growth. What's wrong with a little peace and quiet?

We would say nothing at all. Yet, in this week's portion, Jacob asks for peace and quiet and God does not grant it to him. Instead, God criticizes him. Where did Jacob go wrong? What can be wrong with some R(est) & R(elaxation)?

Let us read the Rashi commentary (37:2) where this appears:

"Jacob wanted to dwell in tranquility but then the ordeal of Joseph (sale into slavery) came upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility but God says 'Is it not enough for the righteous what has been prepared for them (reward) in the World to Come that they need to seek tranquility in this world!'"

Anyone who has ever read this Rashi is always left with a question. Why do righteous people ever seek peace? Is it because they wish to spend their time on the beaches of the Bahamas? Besides, if you want to grow spiritually, don't you need peace and quiet in your life? Is it really possible to contemplate the serious issues of our existence and goals in this world while being bogged down with earthly, physical problems and struggles? We usually need very few distractions in order to grow spiritually. So shouldn't the righteous desire peace and tranquility in order to continue on their path of righteousness?

The solution to this puzzle takes us back to Parshat Vayetzei where we discover that God's criticism of Jacob involves a very subtle and specific area.

In 31:3, God tells Jacob to "return to the land of your fathers and to your birthplace and I will be with you." God does not call the land "Israel," or "the Holy land," but "the land of your fathers." There is something about Jacob's connection to the Land (Israel) that is uniquely expressed through his bond with his fathers. This is what God wants Jacob to focus on when he returns.

What's more, Rashi comments, on the verse in Vayetzei, saying, "Return to the land of your fathers and there I will be with you, but as long as you are connected to the impure one (Lavan), it is impossible to rest my Divine Presence, the Shechinah, upon you."

Apparently, not only does God want Jacob to focus on his connections to the land of his fathers, but the Divine Presence Itself. God's special Providence will not come to Jacob without this special link to the land based upon what his fathers have accomplished in the Land of Israel. Jacob is to build his spiritual growth in the Land of Israel based upon what his fathers have already accomplished.

And this is where Jacob was lacking. Sure, there's no question that Jacob was growing and striving spiritually, especially having returned to the holiest place on earth, Israel. But he was resting and not working within this specific area of building upon what his fathers had already done.

Jacob's resting is reflected in the words of the Torah. The opening verse in our parsha states: "Jacob settled in the land of his father's dwellings, in the Land of Caanan." It is unnecessary to inform us that the Land of Israel was the place where Jacob's fathers lived. We know this from previous readings of Genesis. Rather, the Torah is hinting to us the area in which Jacob was lacking, in his growth of building upon what his fathers accomplished. Jacob may have been creating new paths of spirituality but he was resting and not maintaining the precious old ones of his fathers.

What these paths were exactly is hard for us to decipher from the Torah, but we do see that even when a righteous person seeks peace and quiet for the right reasons, it may not be part of God's plan to grant the peace. The righteous person may not be excelling in a specific area that God wants him to excel in and therefore may not deserve the tranquility.

Of course, we non-Patriarchal type of people should always ask God to grant us peace of mind to be able to grow spiritually because, for us, in most cases, this is exactly what we need. Supremely righteous people, however, may not have the peaceful lives that we would expect that God would grant to them. This may be as a result of God's expecting a very specific area of growth from them that they may not have as of yet attained.

Rest can be good if used properly. Let us hope that God gives us the peace and serenity to reach our maximum potential.

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