Parshas Vayeshev:
Heavenly Bliss?

By Rabbi Ephraim Hochberg

This week’s Parsha begins with the words, "Vayeshev Yaakov and Yaakov settled". Rashi quotes a seemingly perplexing Midrash. "Yaakov was seeking to live in tranquility, when the travails of Yosef were thrust upon him. The righteous seek to live in tranquility. G-d says, ‘The righteous do not consider that which is prepared for them in the World to Come to be enough for them, but they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world as well.’"

Assuredly the tranquility which Yaakov desired was not a life of self-indulgence and hedonistic pleasure, instead it was a life of studying Torah and fulfilling G-d’s will without distraction. Why then was G-d displeased with Yaakov?

To understand this point, another basic question must be explored. We know that G-d is the essence of all good, kindness and compassion, and that his desire is to bestow good upon us. If so, why are our Neshamos- souls- sent away from G-d’s presence down to this world? Would it not be better for our souls to remain in the heavenly, spiritual sphere where we can continually enjoy G-d’s goodness?

The Chofetz Chaim, in Toras Habayis, answers with the following: Although it is true that our Neshamos would be able to benefit greatly if we remained in the World to Come, that benefit would be realized without any effort on our behalf. A person can only enjoy a reward if he feels that he has earned it. Even a son, whose father wants to benefit him, would have a hard time taking constantly, unless he feels that he has worked for what he is receiving. Therefore, G-d in his infinite wisdom, sends away our Neshamos for our own good. We can then feel by performing His mitzvos that we have earned our share in the next world.

However, continues the Chofetz Chaim, this answer alone does not suffice. Why can’t G-d create some form of mitzvos that can be performed in the World to Come, and allow our souls to stay there? Why must we come down to this world in order to do his will? The answer must be that reward in the World to Come is based on the tests that we successfully complete, and the effort that is put forth in this world in fulfilling His mitzvos. If our souls would live in the World to Come, where G-d’s existence is so obvious, it would be unthinkable not to fulfill the mitzvos, and the reward would be given without having to work for it. Only in this world, where G-d has concealed his existence, and the soul is joined with the physical body, which is an impediment to recognizing G-d’s greatness, can a person really feel as though he has earned his reward.

Using this principle, we can now answer our original question. Of course Yaakov’s idea of tranquility was to fulfill G-d’s will without distraction, however, since the entire purpose of a person’s existence in this world is to overcome the obstacles that come his way, and to fulfill the mitzvos despite hardships, it was necessary to bring upon Yaakov the misfortunes involving Yosef.

May we all merit to fulfil our purposes in this world, to serve G-d despite all difficulties.


Last Updated Wednesday Dec 17, 1997


Rabbi Ephraim Hochberg is a full time member of the Chicago Community Kollel. If you have any questions or comments about this week's Parsha Encounters please email him.



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