Parshat Vayeshev: Wishing for Tranqulity?

Parshat Vayeshev opens with the statement that Yacov settled down in Canaan. He had not had an easy life until then: He’d left home to flee Esav, endured years with the swindler Lavan, and suffered the trauma of Dina’s kidnapping and its aftermath. The midrash elaborates that Yakov now hoped to live “b’shalva,” in peace and tranquility. Surely that’s something we can understand.

Chazal, however, viewed Yakov’s desire for “shalva” as problematic. “Yacov wished to live at ease, but the ordeal of Yosef sprang upon him,” says Rashi, citing the midrash. “When tzadikim ask for tranquility, God responds: “The peace of the world-to-come awaits them, yet they also want to dwell at ease in this world?!” This interpretation is based on a seeming connection between Yacov’s desire to settle down, and the subsequent events: intense jealousy between the brothers, the sale of Yosef, and Yacov’s suffering in the belief that Yosef had been killed. 

Yet, there is something bothersome in this commentary. Doesn’t everyone deserve and need tranquility? Should tzadikim never be settled in this world, always doing and moving?

In contrast to the negative view of Yacov’s request for shalva, the Shulchan Aruch cites a custom for women to refrain from work on Hanukkah during the time the candles are lit. The Magen Avraham explains – since “they too were part of the miracle.” This is a time to rest, be thankful, and draw inspiration from the Hanukkah miracle.

Perhaps this is the reconciliation of these two views of the desirability of rest and tranquility: Yacov wanted prolonged tranquility with no end. But endless repose is not the way to live out one’s life. We never fully “retire.” In contrast, women pause on Hanukkah temporarily, at a designated time. Periodic rest and reflection provide the opportunity to recharge ourselves, to renew our creativity, energy and purpose in life. Shabbat Shalom and Hanukkah Sameach! – Karen Miller Jackson

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