Ya’akov’s Disturbed Tranquility by Yehuda Feman


In this week’s Parashah, there is a famous Rashi (BeReishit 37:2 s.v. Eileh Toledot Ya’akov) which states that when Ya’akov seeks to live in his forefathers’ land, Hashem says, “Lo Dayan LeTzadikim Mah SheMitukan Lahem LeOlam HaBa, Ela SheMevakshim Leisheiv BeShalvah BeOlam HaZeh,” “The righteous don’t find the World to Come sufficient, but desire tranquility also in this world,” and proceeds to cause the events leading up to the sale of Yosef. The implication of this statement is that Ya’akov was lacking tranquility in this world. This is difficult to understand, at least based on a literal understanding of the Torah, for the following reason. Yosef was only away from home for 22 years. When one considers that Ya’akov lived a total of 147 years, we find that most of his years were, in fact, spent in tranquility. Only 22 of them were spent without Yosef and thus in a state of distress. How, then, can Rashi suggest that Ya’akov didn’t live peacefully in this world when only a fraction of his life was spent in distress?

Perhaps Ya’akov experienced tremendous stress before the incident with Yosef as well. He was, after all, pursued by his brother and forced to work for Lavan. However, this turmoil began only when Ya’akov was 63 years old, after he was blessed by his father. For at least 63 years, then, we know that Ya’akov lived a rather tranquil life. The Pasuk even describes him as an Ish Tam, which can be translated as “a quiet man” (BeReishit 25:27). This leaves us wondering what exactly Rashi means when he states that Ya’akov lived a life devoid of tranquility.

In order to understand Rashi, we must first determine what was troubling him. Rashi writes earlier that Ya’akov works for Lavan for six years after Yosef is born, and that another two years pass en route to Kena’an. Thus, when Ya’akov settles in his father’s land, Yosef is eight years old. Yet, the Torah introduces Yosef at the beginning of this week’s Parashah as a 17 year old.

Rashi is questioning what happened to the years in between. Why the nine year jump? One might explain that there was simply nothing of note that happened during that time. However, Rashi considers the jump to be significant, and thus in need of an explanation. Rashi believes that the purpose of Yosef’s story being juxtaposed with Ya’akov’s attempt to settle down and live peacefully indicates causality. Because Ya’akov tries settling down comfortably, Yosef's brothers begin to envy Yosef.

This solution leaves us with another question. Why does Yosef’s saga not occur immediately after Ya’akov begins settling down in Kena’an, but nine years later? To answer this, we must first focus on a different question. The Torah states that Yosef would send evil reports to his father regarding his brothers. At first glance, one would assume that this occurs when Yosef is 17, as the introduction of the Parashah states. However, this may not be so. It is counterintuitive that a rivalry between siblings would start when the youngest is 17 years old. Yosef had to have been a child when the tensions began to emerge and it must have taken years for the situation to erupt. In fact, a proof for Yosef's unusual intelligence is found in the scene of Ya’akov's confrontation with Eisav. The Torah states that Lei’ah and her children go out and bowed, and then afterwards Yosef and Rachel go out. Rashi (33:7 s.v. Nigash Yosef VeRachel) asks why Yosef goes out before his mother. He answers that Yosef is concerned that Eisav might set his eyes on his beautiful mother, so he moves in front to block Eisav’s view. We see quite clearly that Yosef is indeed quite mature, even at a young age.

We can safely conclude that Yosef began telling tales of his brothers’ “evil deeds” at a young age. Thus, Ya’akov’s tranquility was disturbed even for those nine years, due to the reports regarding the brothers, which would certainly have prevented Ya’akov from living a peaceful life.

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