June 11, 2024
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Can We, Should We, Hope for a Peaceful Life?

וַיֵּ֣שֶׁב יַעֲקֹ֔ב בְּאֶ֖רֶץ מְגוּרֵ֣י אָבִ֑יו בְּאֶ֖רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃

“And Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of K’naan.” (37:1)

Rashi (37:2, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 84:3) explains that the words “Yaakov settled” indicate that Yaakov wanted to settle in peace in Eretz Canaan and that because of this desire, the story of Yosef’s exile to Mitzrayim happened. The midrash there explains that when a tzadik wants to live in peace in Olam Hazeh (this world), Hashem says to him, “Is what is set aside for you in Olam Haba (the World to Come) not enough for you that you also want to live in peace in Olam Hazeh?”

While it goes without saying that Hashem was judging Yaakov on a higher level due to his righteousness, on the surface, this midrash is still puzzling. Why was Hashem’s reaction to Yaakov wanting to live in peace to make him suffer? What is wrong with tzadikim living in peace in Olam Hazeh? Presumably, a tzadik wants to live in peace in Olam Hazeh to help free himself in order to improve his service of Hashem!

One answer to this question, brought by the Chochmah U’Mussar (1:214), is that it really was better for Yaakov’s service of Hashem to have these hardships and not live in peace. Everything felt in Olam Hazeh is exponentially greater in Olam Haba. This applies to both joy and suffering. Similarly, one gets a much greater reward for the fulfillment of a mitzvah through difficulty than when he does it with ease. Therefore, the hardships in this world are only there to help enhance the fulfillment of the mitzvos, in turn producing a much greater reward in Olam Haba, as opposed to if one were to have life easy in this world.

It therefore makes sense that Hashem would make Yaakov suffer as a consequence for asking for peace in Olam Hazeh. Why should Yaakov want to live in peace in this world and take away from the possible reward he could receive from having to overcome struggles?

The Akeidas Yitzchak (Shaar 30) suggests a second answer to our question. He says that struggles make a person realize his errors and his place in this world. Yaakov wanted to live in peace in Olam Hazeh, but real peace only exists in Olam Haba. Hashem brought hardship upon Yaakov in order to remind him that his presence in Olam Hazeh is like that of a “persecuted stranger,” and he shouldn’t be seeking peace in Olam Hazeh because the only real peace is in Olam Haba. Therefore, even though peace may have helped Yaakov serve Hashem, it was necessary for Hashem to send Yaakov this important message by causing him to suffer.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger offers a third answer to our question. He explains that if the righteous knew that they were guaranteed a spot in Olam Haba, they would continuously live in peace in Olam Hazeh, and since they would live in peace in Olam Hazeh, their reward in Olam Haba would be reduced. Hashem ensures that this is not the case. Instead, tzadikim are constantly living in fear that they will sin and lose their portion in Olam Haba. They receive their full reward in Olam Haba because they never live in peace, due to this fear. Rashi (37:35) brings a midrash that says that Yaakov was given a sign that if none of his children died in his lifetime, he would be guaranteed a portion in Olam Haba. That is why Yaakov wanted to live in peace, so his children wouldn’t die. The story with Yosef happened so that Yaakov would think that one of his children died, and Yaakov wouldn’t live comfortably and therefore not lose any of his reward in Olam Haba.

The Sefer Oznayim LaTorah gives a more technical answer. From the time that Yitzchak was born, the 400 years of exile decreed in the Bris bein HaBesarim began (Bereishis Rabbah 44:18). Even though Avraham and his descendants weren’t slaves yet, which was the requirement of the covenant, they considered themselves like strangers in the land until they inherited it. This is clear from the pasuk’s (21:34) description of Avraham as “sojourning in the land of the Plishtim,” even though he was promised that land.

While Yaakov had already been decreed to have to go down to Mitzrayim (see Shabbos 89b), it was possible for him to go down at the end of his life in order to fulfill that decree as long as he thought of himself as a stranger in Eretz Yisrael to complete the 400 years of exile. Once Yaakov desired to live in peace in Eretz Yisrael like a resident and not like a stranger, the years wouldn’t be considered part of the 400 years of exile. Therefore, Hashem caused Yaakov to suffer by making the story of Yosef happen before its originally designated time, so Yaakov would feel uncomfortable, like a stranger, and eventually go down to Egypt.


This dvar Torah appears in this week’s edition of B’kol Ram, the weekly Torah publication of the JEC High School. To get a digital subscription or to sponsor an issue, please contact [email protected]

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