This week’s portion starts off with the words “Vayeshev Yakov — and Yakov settled”. The classic commentator Rashi brings down a Midrash which states: “Yakov wished to settle in tranquility, but G-d said: are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in the world to come that they need tranquility in this world also?” (Midrash Rabbah 84:3). Not long afterwards, the incident with Yoseph and his brothers occurred, where his brothers threw him in a pit and sold him.
There are two questions we must ask here: 1. What is wrong with desiring to live in tranquility? 2. Why do many of the stories in the Book of Bereshis — Genesis — happen in such a seemingly convoluted fashion? An example is the story of how Yakov got the blessing from his father. If Yakov was meant to get the blessing why did he not simply tell his father? Another instance is the story related here with Yoseph and his brothers. If the brothers had a legitimate reason to sell Yoseph why didn’t they share it with Yakov?
We can use one principal concept to explain both of these difficulties.
As we know, man was put onto this world for a purpose. In order for the world to reach that purpose, there had to be a nation willing to accept upon itself to be a light unto the nations. G-d was waiting for a group of people that would accept this responsibility and be the forefathers of this nation.
The people who stepped up and accepted this responsibility were Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, and Yakov, Rachel, and Leah. The choices made by these people would have ramifications for the entire history of the Jewish people.
Therefore every choice made by our forefathers was something carefully evaluated for its future ramifications for the Jewish people. Many of the decisions made by these ancestors would enable their future offspring to withstand certain difficulties in their quest to bring G-d’s presence down to this world.
So when Yakov wanted to sit in tranquility, a reasonable request considering all that he had been through in his life, he was rebuked. This was so not because it was an unreasonable request for the average person, but because it was an unreasonable request for a person laying the physical and spiritual DNA for generations to come. Yakov’s inevitable role — because of the choices he made — was to be a person whose very existence demanded truth in his service to G-d. And this truth demanded that even at the end of his life, he continue to lay these building bricks.
Similarly, the stories of Yakov and the blessings, and Yoseph and his brothers: because of the convoluted nature of the exiles of the Jewish people, the difficulties, the triumphs and the tragedies, it was necessary for our forefathers to undergo similar difficulties which would cultivate their spiritual DNA, which would then in turn be handed down to their descendants.
When Yoseph was able to still believe in G-d, even though he had undergone so much suffering, this developed something in the Jewish psyche which would enable us to go through so many exiles in foreign lands and still not lose our belief. And this is true of all the stories of our forefathers.
When we study these portions in the book of Bereshis, we must relate to them as more than collection of incidents. We must see in them as windows looking into our destiny.