Parshat Vayeshev: In God’s Good Grace

In God’s Good Grace

Rabbanit Naomi Berman is the Rosh Beit Midrash of  Midreshet Lindenbaum

Nomi BermanThe yearning to live in peace and quiet and settle down in our country has its roots in our weekly portion.  “And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings” (Bereishit 37, 1).  Rashi quotes the Midrash:  “Jacob wished to reside in peace and calm, but then the ordeal of Joseph sprung upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility, but God says, ‘Does it not suffice the righteous that which awaits them in the World to Come that they need to seek tranquility in this world too?'” (ibid., 2).  It seems that the Midrash is referring to the paradox found within the verse in question.  Yaakov settles down, but the land is one of temporary residence only – megurim, sojourning.  This is the land through which God’s promise to Avraham is fulfilled – “your seed shall be strangers.”

For Avraham, too, settling down in the land did not come easily.  At the end of the portion of Noach, Terach takes the initiative and moves his family to the Land of Canaan.  “And Terach took Avram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Avram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur Kasdim, to go into the Land of Canaan; and they came unto Charan, and dwelt there” (Bereishit 11, 31). 

Terach did not make it to his destination; however, he went through all the motions: departure, arrival and even settling down in the new place of residence.  Later on, Avraham would resume the move – “…and they went forth to go into the Land of Canaan, and into the land of Canaan they came” (Bereishit 12, 5).  Unlike his father, Avram does arrive at his destination, but without going through all the required steps: he leaves, he arrives; however, it seems he is unable to truly settle down in his new place of residence. 

Similarly, Yaakov’s dwelling in the land is juxtaposed to another such attempt.  At the end of the previous portion, following the tense encounter between Yaakov and Esav, the Torah describes their farewell.  “And Esav took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the souls of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his possessions which he had gathered in the Land of Canaan; and went into a land away from his brother Yaakov.  For their substance was too great for them to dwell together; and the land of their sojournings could not bear them because of their cattle.  And Esav dwelt in the mountain of Seir – Esav is Edom” (Bereishit 36, 6-8). 

The reason for this move remains ambiguous – “and [Esav] went into a land away from his brother Yaakov.”  Here, too, Rashi highlights the tension that exists between temporary residence or sojourning, and permanent residence or settling down.  Esav leaves the land of “their sojournings” and moves to the mountain of Seir, a place where he can truly settle down.

“…away for his brother Yaakov: because of the promise pertaining to Yitzhak’s descendants that they shall be strangers [in Egypt before settling in the Land of Canaan].  He [Esav] said unto himself: ‘I will go away from here, for I have no share in the gift of the land nor in its burden [the exile that must precede it].'” (Rashi on verse 8.)

Esav’s decision is a logical one.  Why dwell in the land in which – as he was told – he would have no peace?  In any event, the Torah immediately redirects our attention from Esav to Yaakov.  Yaakov, unlike Esav, does not leave; rather, he settles down in the very same land and with the very same promise – “And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father’s soujournings.”

The descendants of Yaakov have followed in his footsteps.  They, too, wish to live in peace and quiet.  But myriad ordeals have befallen them.  And yet they still continue to seek some serenity, bright paints in hand, and armored with optimistic smiles.  As Benny Friedman puts it so well in his song:

“And a Yid never gives up in the night,
A Yid perseveres through the deepest despairs,
His emunah strengthens him for the fight…”

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