After years of working for Lavan (Laban), Yaakov (Jacob) senses that it is time to go. Rumors have begun to spread that Yaakov has cheated Lavan, and Lavan has started to treat Yaakov differently. G-d then tells Yaakov that indeed, it is time for him to leave the house of Lavan and return home to Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov calls to his wives Rachel and Leah out in the fields, to discuss their next step far from prying ears (see Gemara Berachos 8b). When they meet in the field, Yaakov begins the conversation by describing the trickery, deceit, and humiliation he faced while working for Lavan. Yaakov concludes his words by explaining that G-d Himself has told him it is time to return to Eretz Yisrael. Rachel and Leah respond that they too have suffered at the hands of their father; “… he has sold us and used up all of our money” (31:15). The sisters then conclude that “what G-d has said to you to do, do” (31:16).
At first glance, this dialogue seems relatively simple. Yaakov expresses his pain and suffering at the hands of Lavan to help his wives understand why they should heed the call of G-d to leave their home and journey with him to Eretz Yisrael. Rachel and Leah also air their grievances, and ultimately agree to the move.
Upon further reflection, however, there is something rather strange about the conversation. Once Rachel and Leah hear that G-d has commanded them to journey to Eretz Yisrael, why do they choose to vent their grievances? After hearing what G-d wants, does it make a difference? In other words, had they been treated excellently by their father Lavan would they not have agreed to move? Once Yaakov relays that G-d has requested this move, one would think that whatever familial strife has or has not occurred would be irrelevant. Yet for some reason, Rachel and Leah feel that this is the time to make known their displeasure, and then seemingly based on their negative experiences, agree to G-d’s wishes to move. Why is their obedience to G-d predicated on their own pain?
Often, we view the struggle between a life of spirituality and physicality as a choice between this world and the next world. Enjoy this world, pay the price in the next world. Abstain from enjoying life in this world, and you’ll merit the next world. Yet, explains Rav Eliyahu Lopian (the late Mashgiach of Knesses Chizkiyahu and a leading Mussar personality of the previous generation), nothing could be further from the truth.
When we live our lives with a spiritual mission, we are not just exchanging pleasures in one world for the next. Rather, we are imbuing our lives with depth and meaning in every situation at every stage of life. From when we wake up in the morning until we retire at night, our life as a servant of G-d provides us endless opportunities to turn mundane life into an existence filled with meaning, growth, and connection. Focusing on the physical and the fleeting pleasures of life leaves a person empty and devoid of meaning. Choosing spirituality in this world enables a person to both have meaning and joy in this world, and it also ensures that he or she will have a share in the world to come.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian explains that this is precisely what Rachel and Leah wished to tell Yaakov. Of course, they would have heeded the command of G-d to travel to Eretz Yisrael even had they not experienced hardships at the hand of their father. When they first spoke of their pain, they wished to highlight that based on their experiences, they knew that the command of G-d was good for them. After experiencing life lived in the house of Lavan, they were able to understand that what G-d wanted from them was the best thing possible, even in this world. It is this very idea that Rachel and Leah wanted to transmit to future generations. The commandments of G-d are what will lead us to enjoyment, even in this world. As Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, author of the Mesillas Yesharim (Path of the Just) famously wrote , “Man was only created in order to derive pleasure from G-d.”
We too can experience this clarity. The more effort we put in to serving G-d, the more meaning we will find in all areas of our life. While we may not live in the house of Lavan, we can learn to feel and see that what G-d wants from us is indeed the best thing for us, even in this world.