FOR THE RIGHTEOUS, THERE IS NO TRANQUILITY
Parashat VaYeshev begins with the words, "And Jacob dwelled." From this seemingly mundane phrase the Rabbis derive the following, "When the righteous desire to live in tranquility, the Accuser comes [before G-d] and declares: Is it not enough for them to receive reward in the World to Come? Must they also request to dwell in tranquility in this world? [And so, Jacob was afflicted] with the troubles of Joseph" (Bereishit Rabba 84:3).
AMAZING! All Jacob wanted was to settle down and raise a Torah-observant family. What more could G-d ask of him? Here was a man beset with troubles from the day he was born- the feud with Esav, the despicable treatment he received at Laban's house, the rape of his daughter, and the subsequent fear of reprisal attacks after his sons massacred Shechem's residents. Didn't Jacob deserve- at least at this stage- to relax a little, study Torah, and enjoy life?
The answer is no. In fact, it is exactly this outlook on life that the Rabbis in the Midrash seek to repudiate. It is a lesson we must drill into our hearts: The attainment of comfort, even if combined with a life of Torah and mitzvot, is not what Judaism is about. Genuine tranquility is reserved for the World to Come. This world, by its very nature, is one of struggle and strife. "The days of our years are 70 or, given strength, 80; but the best of them are trouble and sorrow. They pass by speedily, and we are in darkness" (Psalms 90:10). A Jew's purpose in this world is selfless devotion- to G-d, His Torah, and His people.
Under the chuppah, my father, HY"D, would frequently tell the newlyweds that he does not wish them a life of tranquility and comfort but rather one of mesirut nefesh for their divine mission in this world. This strange blessing often startled many guests. But it was the message my father continually stressed- that a Jew MUST give of himself to sanctify G-d's Name. This includes his time, his money, and sometimes even his life.
This lesson is quite relevant to the holiday of Chanukah drawing near. One who ponders the sequence of events of the Chanukah story may be confounded by an enigma: What were the Jews doing before Matityahu and his sons rebelled? When the Greek entourage travelled from village to village forcing Jews to sacrifice pigs to idols, why did no one rebel? Were there no other righteous Jews in Israel besides Matityahu?
Of coruse there were. Many Jews observed the mitzvot. But all these Jews placed their personal comfort and safety above their Jewish mission and destiny. Matityahu and his sons, in contrast, were willing to act with mesirut nefesh.
The implications for today are obvious. Unfortunately, if there were only a few Maccabees a millennia ago, there are even fewer Maccabees today. The slogan "Never Again" was never intended to mean that another Holocaust will never again occur. It means that Jews will never again sit quietly in tranquility while other Jews suffer. It means that Jews will do EVERYTHING in their power, even at great personal cost, to help their brethren.
Let us remember the lesson of "And Jacob dwelled." Let us remember- especially the strictly Orthodox amongst us who labor to fulfill every halachic stringency- that living in tranquility is not the purpose of life.
Darka Shel Torah, 1993