Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on December 6, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning.[1]

Rashi: Yaakov sought to live in tranquility. [However,] the ordeal of Yosef sprung upon him.

And what, indeed, would have been so terrible had Yaakov been able to enjoy untroubled “golden years?” We’ve seen many great people who merited that! Certainly, Yaakov was not looking to lead a life of luxury! Putting that aside, whatever fault could be found with Yaakov’s wish, where is the midah keneged midah/measure for measure in the tribulations of Yosef? Why was he involved?

We know that Esav and Yaakov divided up the entirety of existence. Esav chose to possess this temporal world, while Yaakov chose olam habo. That creates a paradox. Esav cannot truly enjoy this world, if he is plagued by serious doubts about obtaining some of the next! Somehow, worrying about eternity cannot be allowed to put a damper on his enjoying the here and now. That is why Esav’s descendants seem so more confident about their place in Heaven than we are. They invented theologies in which they were guaranteed a place in eternity for very little investment! They are free to seek pleasure without concern that they will meet an abrupt end when they die.

Yaakov’s progeny, however, were never promised olam hazeh. They strive for olam habo – and realize that one has to work hard to deserve it! Since they don’t have a real stake in this world, they can constantly worry (as they should!) about whether they are doing all they can to achieve their portion in the next.

Yaakov thought that he would not stumble in sin in his remaining years. Therefore, he believed that he could live in tranquility, not having to concern himself with his olam habo. This was a mistake. Since a tzadik’s greatest joy is olam habo, he cannot be assured of having earned admission, because such assurance would give him a perfect olam hazeh – to which he has no right!

Yaakov was shown his error through the apparent loss of Yosef. He had previously understood that having twelve sons was the proof of his entitlement to olam habo. Now that only eleven remained, he lost his confidence that he would enter it. His tranquility turned to apprehension and doubt.

A second approach to understanding Yaakov:

On the way to Lavan’s house, all Yaakov asked Hashem for was bread to eat and clothes to wear.[2] Why did he now wish to enjoy a fuller material world? Yaakov understood that there are nisyonos associated with both poverty and wealth. In his younger days, he believed that the tests associated with wealth were more difficult, and preferred the struggles of poverty. Upon reflection in his old age, he reasoned that he had passed the easier test, and was ready to withstand the nisyonos of comfort and wealth.

Hashem showed him that such thinking is flawed, even for a person who is certain that he can pass those tests. Yosef was taken from him, in a family conflict that was precipitated in large degree by living a life of comfort. Yosef is described as preening himself like the adolescent that he was, paying youthful attention to his appearance. This contributed to a conflict with his brothers, that led to his sale to Egypt.

Yaakov was shown that while a person may think himself capable of living with the nisayon of wealth, his children may not! The dangers of wealth were greater than he had thought.

  1. Bereishis 37:1
  2. Bereishis 28:20