Saturday, December 01, 2007

Parshas Vayeishev - The Dweller in the Land

Parshas Vayeishev begins with Yaakov our Forefather dwelling in the land of Caanan for Vayeishev literally means to sit or in this case to dwell. Originally when describing Yaakov and Esav as young men, the Torah said that Yaakov was a "Yoshev Ohalim", a sitter in tents. Now having returned home again, Yaakov has also returned to dwelling in tents.

The Midrash comments on this, Rotza Yaakov Leishev BeShalva, Yaakov Desired to Dwell in Peace Yet G-d had other plans for him. It seems as if dwelling in peace was not what G-d wanted from Yaakov. When Yaakov had first sat in tents and studied, he had been the second son and then he had been thrust into deceiving his brother and father, into fleeing to the house of his uncle, laboring their for years in the open field, combating deceit and betrayal and after all these years only to return home and still to find no peace there.

Now on returning home the Midrash tells us that Yaakov worried that he lacked two merit vis a vis Esav on two counts, two divine commandments that Esav had fulfilled and he had not. These two commandments was honoring one's father and Yeshivat Ha'aretz, Dwelling in the Land... because settling the land of Israel is itself a divine commandment. So when Yaakov returned home and Vayeishev, he dwelled in the land, he was not merely sitting around all day, he was fulfilling a divine commandment. Why then was it not pleasing to G-d that Yaakov sought to live in peace, Ratza Leishev Beshalva?

The answer begins with Yaakov dwelling in tents while Esav went out and captured his father's heart. It's not enough to be 'good' inside your own tent without confronting evil and contesting its hold on people and on the land. It was not because of his deception that Yaakov received the blessings of the first born, but because he cared enough to fight for them that he became worthy to carry them. Had he remained a dweller in tents and stepped out of Esav's way, indeed he would have not received them.

Yeshivat Ha'aretz, Settling the Land and dwelling there cannot be a merely passive act, it's a struggle. Yaakov sought to live in peace but none of his fathers had lived in peace and neither would his descendants. There can be no peace in a world in which evil has power. That is why G-d proclaimed eternal war against Amalek. It is why turmoil and suffering continues to exist.

Settling the land is a constant struggle against enemies, against temptation and against corruption. The desire for peace comes as an insidious form of corruption because true peace is of course death, in its minor stages it is a desire to cease working, struggling and fighting but to simply sit in your tent. Life however is struggle. Yaakov living in peace would accomplish nothing, even the service of G-d requires hardship and suffering to carry real meaning. That is why Avraham was tested, it is why all of his sons and daughters continue to be tested to this day.

Parshas Vayeishev begins with Yaakov desiring to dwell in peace in the land, but G-d had other plans for him. It continues with Yaakov's sons developing a desire to destroy Yosef, but there too G-d had other plans. It continues with Yosef seeking a way out of his predicament, but there too G-d had other plans. People often seek the easy way out, but G-d's way is not the easy way.

Parshas Vayeishev begins with their father's desire for peace and then descends into the pitfalls of chaos and turmoil as Yaakov's sons go astray, as Yosef is enslaved; all of it paving the way for their triumph, downfall and triumph and downfall and triumph, a cycle of waves and peaks followed by history in which exile and slavery is followed by redemption and a golden window that then eventually gives way to corruption and exile and slavery again.

This is not only the Jewish condition, it is also the human condition. We don't appreciate the light without the darkness and we don't learn to truly rely on G-d until we need to. We instinctively seek peace, contentment and ease but that is rarely what G-d wants from us. At Annapolis, Israel's leaders have come to seek peace, after thousands of years having failed to learn that though they seek peace, 'there is no peace'. Life is not a state of peace, it is a state of turmoil which we do our best to order, either in the way of G-d or in our own manifold ways.


LemonLimeMoon said...

It is a fight just to go day to day sometimes.
Yasher koach.

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