Kol Colchester Parshat Vayeshev

The Sages ask: Why did Jacob deserve that Joseph, his favorite son, get sold as a slave to Egypt?

They discover the answer in the name of this parsha, Vayeshev — “and Jacob rested.” Jacob had had a very tough life — attacked by his brother in the womb; chased out of his father’s home without a penny; tricked into marrying a woman he did not love; a father-in-law who wished to kill him; his daughter was raped; his sons murdered a whole city and were wanted men in Canaan; his beloved wife died giving birth. Now that’s tough by any standard. And so, Vayeshev — Jacob wanted a break, to relax and take it easy for a little while. Immediately, the Sages say, Joseph was snatched from him.

What’s wrong with taking a break? Surely everyone needs a break now and then. Human beings can’t function without some relaxation to ease the stress of life. Who would blame Jacob, after all he’d been through, for wanting to relax a little?

The answer lies in the purpose of a break. Is the break a means to an end, or is it an end unto itself? As winter vacation time rolls around, the question is very appropriate. Is a vacation a means, or is it an end? Is it a break from life, or is it life itself? I meet so many people for whom it is the latter. Life is just the interval one has to “put up with” in-between the vacations. That doesn’t say much for life, does it? “I struggle hard during the year, so that once or twice a year I can escape from the struggle.” Do we really want to struggle — just to escape the struggle?!

The Sages say the opposite should be true. Life is about struggle. That’s how we grow into better, bigger, more full and complete human beings. It is the struggle that we enjoy so much. Escaping that struggle is sometimes necessary. But only so we can return, rejuvenated, to that struggle. We don’t live for our vacations. We take vacations so that when we return we can truly live!

Jacob wanted to escape not because he needed the rest, but because he was tired of facing life anymore. God forced him back into life. In Jewish thinking, if we have stopped grappling with life, we are zombies, walking vegetables. We are missing the boat entirely.


Rabbi Ken Alter