After the troubles with Laban, Esau and Shechem, Jacob wants tranquility. But G^d says, the saintly people already have a great afterlife – should they also have it easy in this life?
Our Commentator the Mizrachi explains why this comment from Rashi, from the Midrash, is written on the second verse (Genesis 37:2), that mentions Joseph already (his next troubles), and not on the first word of the first verse, And he settled. He says, that’s because the first verse should be reserved as a contrast to the last verses of the previous Portion (Genesis 36:1-42), contrasting Jacob’s conduct with Esau’s.
I know another contrast besides those mentioned by Rashi. Jacob (Genesis 37:1) Vayeishev, goes to settle himself, as G^d commended, while Esau (Genesis 33:16) and Laban (Genesis 32:1), after their encounter of years with a total saint like Jacob, Vayashov (same Letters, different vocalization), still returned to where they came from – implying: they did not change a bit. That’s how steeped in evil they were. Only in his presence, they shaped up a bit (after years) but as soon as they left, they went back to their old evil ways.
Our lesson: It’s most important that after our trice daily Standing Prayer, our encounter with G^d, we don’t return to our place the way we were before our prayers. Our prayers should transform us.
Let’s return to our initial point that Jacob wanted to take it easy. I want to protest the thought that this Midrashic idea would be connected to And he settled (Better: And he was settling) at all. To settle the Land is a Commandment for Jews until this day. As Yaakov Fogelman famously said: G^d is a religious Zionist too. That verse cannot be tainted by mistakes. Jacob himself wanted to return (Genesis 30:25), and was even explicitly ordered by G^d to return to the Land and his birthplace (Genesis 31:13) (and before, when he also received travel insurance, Genesis 31:3). To do so could not be wrong in any way.
Let me suggest that rather, he wanted to take it easy before starting to settle down already immediately after the drawn-out troubles with Laban and Esau. And that was the problem.
What does one do if one narrowly escapes great danger? Builds a great life? No. At first, one takes a break. To catch one’s breath. That is fine for average people but not for complete saints.
(BTW, Jewish Law teaches that we should not stretch or cross our legs, yawn or sleep in the synagogue because – I believe – that’s a place to exert ourselves.)
But that is exactly what Jacob does. After finally escaping Laban (Genesis 31:22-32:1), prevailing in his fight with G^d and Man (Genesis 32:29) and at last, reconciling with his brother Esau (Genesis 33:1-16), he doesn’t rush home – though his father must have been waiting for him. His punishment is measure for measure. The apple of his eye, Joseph, disappears without a sign for 23 years too – Genesis 37:14-46:29, including payment for his long journey home.
We could say that maybe, Jacob wasn’t ready to meet his father again, that he had wanted to get into spiritual shape first. But it looked bad and that is not fitting a saint.
Instead of rushing home, he builds himself a house with shelters for his livestock in Succoth (Genesis 33:17) and bought a field and pitches his tent near Shechem (Genesis 33:19). Not to exaggerate, Succoth means temporary dwellings and a tent is short-term settling again. He never intended to stay there.
Meanwhile, G^d says nothing. Which should have been an ominous sign for a Prophet. One may take a vacation, but G^d doesn’t.
And then it happened, the violation of Dina (Genesis 34). (Which, dreadful as it was, in the larger picture, needed to happen, as I will explain elsewhere.)
BTW, Shechem loves her very much (Genesis 34:3) but we don’t hear Dina reciprocate. She was more into girls (Genesis 34:1). Also, when the wife of Potiphar make advances to Joseph, he doesn’t give his version (Genesis 39:19-20).
Joseph’s refusals and adherence to “he has denied me nothing but you” (Genesis 39:9) might be a correction of the First Sin where we were also denied only one thing (Genesis 2:16-17) but succumbed.
The Midrash tells us that Dina was supposed to be a boy but Rachel prayed successfully that it was her turn to have a boy so Dina came out a girl. And before Rachel’s prayer, Joseph was meant to be a girl. It showed. Joseph was taking excessive care of his appearance (Rashi on Genesis 37:2), colorful clothes were important to him (Genesis 37:4) and so was his beautiful look (Genesis 39:6) after his mother Rachel (Genesis 29:17). The first transgender stories? But then, their lines marry (Joseph and Osnat, daughter of Dinah and Shechem) and the a-typicalnesses balance out and disappear from their children. We often see loving couples where the man is more effeminate and the woman more butch but their children are more standard.)
Back to Jacob. Only after the tragedies around Dina, G^d talks to him again (Genesis 35:1, 9-12), hinting that the reasons for leaving his father’s home had expired. He fled Esau (Genesis 35:1) and he now had offspring (Genesis 35:11). And the Land was his (Genesis 35: 12). What was he waiting for?!
So, now he does as he should have all along, return home – just in time to see his father Isaac (Genesis 35:27-28) and bury him – and settle (Genesis 37:1). Emotionally, though, he will never settle. He keeps sojourning (Genesis 47:9). He missed his chance by taking a break when he should have marched on.
The rabbis teach that a third of all suffering of Jews will befall us in the time of the coming of the Messiah (that may have been the Holocaust), a third during the Crusades and a third was suffered by our Founding Fathers.
We know that not only are righteous people dealt with more harshly than the common folks, but also that they carry much of the punishments that others couldn’t. They are also held responsible for people around them who don’t repent. But may I suggest that they didn’t only carry hardship for their contemporaries but also for all Jews of all times who’re not total saints yet. (Yes, yet another idea that Classical Christianity borrowed from Judaism without crediting the source. Only, we don’t teach that we need to love our saints in order for this to happen….)