Man was Created for Toil
So our father Yaakov wishes to spend the rest of his days in peace and
serenity, enjoying his grandchildren and pursuing his spiritual growth. Is
that not what all of us wish for ourselves as we grow older and we feel that
the major battles of life are already behind us? Yet, as Rashi points out,
based on difficult tests of Yaakov in his life - Lavan, Eisav, Shechem, etc,
Midrash, the Lord, so to speak, is dissatisfied with this plan of Yaakov’s.
The great drama of Yosef and his brothers yet lies before him. This
situation can be seen as one of external enemies and Yaakov is steeled to
the task of opposing them for such is the way of the world – certainly of
the Jewish world. But Yosef and his brothers is a test of internal rivalries
and enmities, a situation at the end of Yaakov’s life that threatens to
destroy all that he achieved in his lifetime.
Yaakov feels that he is entitled to rest on his laurels and savor his
accomplishments. He has somehow overcome all of the wiles and aggressions of
his external enemies and sees only peace and serenity ahead. He is therefore
unprepared for the internal struggle within his own beloved family that, in
the words of Rashi and Midrash, “now leaps upon him.”
His very longing for the peace and serenity that has eluded him his entire
lifetime is his very undoing because he does not choose to see the festering
enmities and jealousies that are brewing within his own house and family.
Wishes and desires, illusions as to how things should be, often blind us to
the realities of how things really are and we are therefore blindsided by
events that could have been foreseen had we not indulged so mightily in our
I think that is what Rashi and the Midrash had in mind when they quoted God,
so to speak, that the righteous should not expect serenity in this world.
The Talmud even goes so far to say that even in the World to Come the
righteous are not at tranquil rest but rather are bidden “to go from
strength to strength.”
We all need times of leisure and rest in order to build up a reservoir of
physical and mental strength to deal with the problems and vicissitudes of
life. Judaism does not know of the concept or value of “retirement” as it is
formulated in modern parlance. It certainly allows for changes in
circumstances, occupations and interests. But “man was created for toil.”
One must always be busy with productive matters – Torah study, good deeds,
self-education, etc. - even till the end of life.
And one must always be vigilant and realistic about the problems of life –
externally caused or internally present in one’s own household – in order to
make certain that gains made in one’s earlier years will not be squandered
by illusions and wishful thinking later in life. This is true nationally as
well as personally. We all desire peace and serenity but only realism and
vigilance can protect us from our own errors and self-made problems.
Rabbi Berel Wein