February 26, 2024
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Zera Shimshon on Parshas Vayeishev

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן: (בראשית לז/א)

On the pasuk “And Yaakov dwelled in the land…” Rashi explains, “Yaakov asked to live in tranquility, the ordeal of Yosef sprang upon him. Tzaddikim seek tranquility. HaKadosh Baruch Hu said, “What is prepared for the tzaddikim in the world to come is not sufficient for them? They seek [also] to dwell in tranquility in this world?!”

Zera Shimshon asks a few questions. Firstly, why was it wrong for Yaakov to ask Hashem for a tranquil life? Secondly, what exactly was the punishment of kahptzah ahlov rogzo shel Yosef, the ordeal of Yosef sprung on him? And thirdly, how is this punishment midah k’neged midah (eye for an eye punishment) for Yaakov’s asking reward for his mitzvos in this world. It would seem that there is no similarity between Yaakov asking for his reward and suffering from thinking about Yosef’s fate.

We have to first understand what was Yaakov’s crime for asking his reward immediately in this world and not waiting for it until he gets to Olam Haba? A boss (or one who lent money) doesn’t get angry when the one to whom he has to pay asks for the money owed to him before the due date; if he has the money he gives it to him and if not he just says, “I’m sorry, but it is not possible right now.”

Zera Shimshon explains Yaakov’s aveira (sin) in light of two opinions in the Gemara Brachos regarding on whom Hashem bestows goodness in this world. Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Yossi holds that Hashem bestows constant good only to perfect tzaddikim. All other people, even if they are tzaddikim but not absolute tzaddikim, are not entitled to constant good. Rav Meir argues and holds that Hashem has mercy on people who He wants to be merciful towards. We cannot understand the decisions and ways of Hashem and even absolute tzaddikim can suffer and absolute reshaim can enjoy life.

We don’t know how Hashem paskens, like Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Yossi or like Rav Meir and therefore we cannot conclude by the quality of a person’s life if a person is really a tzaddik and Hashem is giving him reward for his excellent behavior, in line with the opinion of Rav Yochanan, or if he is really not a tzaddik and Hashem is bestowing on him good for a reason unknown to us, in line with the opinion of Rav Yochanan.

A person who has the boldness to ask Hashem to give him his reward in this world must believe that he is a total tzaddik and is relying on the view of Rav Yochanan in the name of Rav Yossi. If he held like Rav Meir he would have no claim to goodness because according to Rav Meir even total tzaddikim don’t necessarily enjoy a good life even if they really deserve it.

The truth is however, that even according to Rav Yochanan, Hashem gets very aggravated and upset with a person who is really a tzaddik and deserves a very happy and prosperous life for the following reason. If Hashem grants him his request because of the reason of Rav Yochanan, people who will see other tzaddikim who suffer (because Hashem deals with them according to the opinion of Rav Meir) they will look down at them and think that they are not really tzaddikim. Since his request could result in the smearing of other tzaddikim it comes out that he is not an absolute tzaddik, his request is inappropriate and Hashem is angry at him for asking for something that he doesn’t deserve!

On the surface this seems to be a good explanation of why Hashem punished Yaakov, but the truth is that it is not so simple at all. In Yaakov Avinu’s days there were no other tzaddikim as big as he, who would be slandered if only he had a nice and tranquil life. The question therefore remains; why did Hashem punish Yaakov for asking for a tranquil life?

Zera Shimshon explains that even though Yaakov’s request wouldn’t result in the slandering of tzaddikim in his generation, it would cause tzaddikim in future generations to also ask for tranquil lives which Hashem couldn’t grant because it would cause people to look down on the tzaddikim of that generation, who for reasons
that only Hashem understands, don’t live in tranquility. Even though Yaakov’s part in that aveira is minimal, Hashem punished him because aveira gorrerres aveira and even a very small and minor aveira can eventually cause something major.

Even though we have explained Yaakov’s wrongdoing, we still have to understand what exactly was the punishment of kahptzah ahlov rogzo shel Yosef, the ordeal of Yosef sprung on him. This is the standard translation and it means that Yaakov’s punishment was the pain that Yaakov felt by thinking that Yosef was killed by a wild animal.

However, this is not the literal translation. The literal translation of rogzo shell Yosef is “the anger of Yosef sprung on him.” Zera Shimshon explains that this means that Yosef’s brothers sold Yosef as a slave because he spoke negatively about them to their father Yaakov. Therefore, when Yosef was a slave in Mitzrayim he was upset and angry with his father that he never chastised him. If Yaakov would have rebuked him, Yosef would have stopped talking badly about his brothers which would have caused them not to have hated him and would have prevented them from selling him as a slave. In other words, Yaakov’s punishment was that Yosef was angry with Yaakov for indirectly causing him to be sold as a slave.

We can now understand how Yaakov punishment is midah k’neged midah of his wrongdoing. Since Yaakov’s request to live in tranquility would have indirectly caused people to speak negatively about tzaddikim who do not enjoy tranquil and happy lives, he was punished that he indirectly caused Yosef to be angry at him!

To summarize: Zera Shimshon asked three questions on Rashi. Firstly, what was so wrong with Yaakov asking to live a calm life. Secondly, what exactly was the punishment of “ kahptzah ahlov rogzo shel Yosef,” And thirdly, why is this punishment midah k’negged midah for this wrongdoing?

Zera Shimshon answered that if Hashem would have granted Yaakov his request, he would have caused people to bad-mouth other tzaddikim who, completely unrelated to their actions, do not lead a tranquil life. Because of this, he was punished because he didn’t chastise Yosef when he bad-mouthed his brothers and this caused his favorite son, Yosef, to become angry with him!

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