You can sleep when you’re dead: Parashat Vayeishev

The beginning of our parsha sees Ya’akov settle permanently in the land of his forefathers’ sojourns. Rashi draws attention to this dichotomy by telling us that Ya’akov wanted to live in tranquility. It is this desire that moved Hashem to set in motion the events of Yosef’s sale as a correction – “Is it not enough for the righteous to sit in tranquility in the World to Come, that they choose to do so in this World too?!”

What moves Ya’akov to ‘live in tranquility’? Had his mission ended? Why was ‘retirement’ an option?

If we cast our minds back to Parashat Lech Lecha, Avraham asks Hashem how he will know that the putative brit that has just been announced will be fulfilled. In response, Hashem tells him that his descendants will be afflicted strangers in a foreign land, where only the fourth generation will gain their freedom and leave with great wealth.

Paying careful attention to the end of parashat Vayeitzei and Ya’akov’s admonition of Lavan, as well as the verses dealing with Eisav’s departure from Eretz C’naan, we see that the conditions provided to Avraham have all been fulfilled. Ya’akov was a worked in a strange land, was afflicted, and ultimately left with great wealth, to see Eisav (“the Emorite”) vacate his place in the Land. It seems every detail has been fulfilled, with only the Messianic Age left to be ushered in.

And yet…

We know this not to be the case. The Promised exile was yet to come. One hint is found in the naming of the twelfth son of Ya’akov. We refer to him always as Binyamin, but Rachel called him Ben-Oni – son of my pain, the double connotation of joy and mourning. In other words, she was conveying to Ya’akov that they had not yet reached the zenith of their cosmic fulfilment, and that the tranquility that naturally follows an era of action, challenge and overcoming obstacles was not yet with them.

This idea is further emphasised in the brothers’ response to Yosef’s dreams – “Will you rule over us, will you have dominion over us??” – The age of being subjugated is over! We are ready to enter the age of tranquility where the Divine Presence will be made known to all mankind! And you continue to have delusions of grandeur?

Yosef’s dreams were in fact hinting that redemption was not yet at hand, that the bonds of brotherhood that tie us together were not sufficiently developed. The quest for brotherhood is the reason Ya’akov sends Yosef to his brothers in the first place, that cry for his brothers which only get answered thirteen years later. That search remains with us today, and it would behoove us all to engage in some self-introspection as to how we relate to each other.

About the Author
David Gross was born in Geneva and grew up in London. He graduated from UCL in 2010 with a B.A. in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He has previously served as Southern Fieldworker of Bnei Akiva UK. He has studied and taught in Yeshivat HaKotel, and currently teaches in Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He will be starting an MBA at Bar Ilan in the coming academic year.
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