No Rest For the Weary by David Pincus


At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yaakov wishes to rest and retire.  Yaakov thought that he had successfully met all his challenges: He had spent twenty years with his conniving father-in-law and had not been affected.  He had avoided a violent reunion with his brother Esav.  He had fought with an angel, and, although his leg was wounded, he came away with a Beracha.  His daughter Dina was rescued from her kidnappers, and although Levi and Shimon had wiped out Shechem nobody took revenge on Yaakov’s family.

The Midrash (cited by Rashi on Bereishit 37:1) tells us that now Yaakov just wanted to take it easy.  The Midrash then says that Hashem disapproves when Tzaddikim rest in this world.  Since they will be able to rest and enjoy Olam Habah, they should not slack off in Olam Hazeh.  Hashem therefore caused Yosef to be sold into slavery, and Yaakov endured twenty-two more years of agony while Yosef was missing.  This begs the question: Why it is so horrible for Yaakov to want to live some part of his life in peace; did he not deserve it?

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky relates the following story: On the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet during the height of World War II, Rabbi Aharon Kotler took the well-known activist Irving Bunim on a train trip to Washington.  The war in Europe was raging, Jews were being exterminated, and the two had to see a high-ranking Washington official to plead with him in every possible way to save the Jewish People.  On the way down to Washington, Rabbi Kotler tried to persuade Bunim to break his fast.  “Bunim” he explained, “You cannot fast now.  You need your strength for the meeting.”  But Irving Bunim refused to eat.  He was sure that he could hold out until the evening when the fast ended.

The meeting was intense.  Rabbi Kotler cried, cajoled, and begged the official to respond.  Finally, the great rabbi felt that he had impressed upon the man the severity of the situation.  The man gave his commitment that he would talk to the President.  When they left the meeting, Bunim was exhausted.  He mentioned to Rav Kotler that he thought the meeting went well and now he would like to eat.  Rav Kotler was quick to reply.  “With Hashem’s help it will be good.  And Bunim,” he added, “Now you can fast!”  Yaakov wanted to rest, but Hashem knows that there is no real rest in this world.  As soon as you finish one conflict, another one pops right up to take its place.

This Shabbat is also Shabbat Chanukah.  The word Chanukah means “they rested on the 25th [of Kislev].”  However, the Chashmonaim did not really rest.  Although they rested from physical battle, much work remained to restore the Bait Hamikdash to its former splendor.  They engaged in a spiritual battle to rescue the Jews from the Hellenist culture surrounding them.  Indeed, this battle is still being waged.  The Chanukiah that we light symbolizes that we won the battle, but the war is far from over.

Switch by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz

Spread the Word by Yechiel Shaffer