For the week ending 13 December 2014 / 21 Kislev 5775

Parshat Vayeshev

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -


Yaakov settles in the land of Canaan. His favorite son, Yosef, brings him critical reports about his brothers. Yaakov makes Yosef a fine tunic of multi-colored woolen strips. Yosef exacerbates his brothers’ hatred by recounting prophetic dreams of sheaves of wheat bowing to his sheaf, and of the sun, moon and stars bowing to him, signifying that all his family will appoint him king. The brothers indict Yosef and resolve to execute him. When Yosef comes to Shechem, the brothers relent and decide, at Reuven’s instigation, to throw him into a pit instead. Reuven’s intent was to save Yosef. Yehuda persuades the brothers to take Yosef out of the pit and sell him to a caravan of passing Ishmaelites. Reuven returns to find the pit empty and rends his clothes. The brothers soak Yosef’s tunic in goat’s blood and show it to Yaakov, who assumes that Yosef has been devoured by a wild beast. Yaakov is inconsolable. Meanwhile, in Egypt, Yosef has been sold to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s Chamberlain of the Butchers. In the Parsha’s sub-plot, Yehuda’s son Er dies as punishment for preventing his wife Tamar from becoming pregnant. Onan, Yehuda’s second son, then weds Tamar by levirate marriage. He too is punished in similar circumstances. When Yehuda’s wife dies, Tamar resolves to have children through Yehuda, as this union will found the Davidic line culminating in the Mashiach. Meanwhile, Yosef rises to power in the house of his Egyptian master. His exceptional beauty attracts the unwanted advances of his master’s wife. Enraged by his rejection, she accuses Yosef of attempting to seduce her, and he is imprisoned. In prison, Yosef successfully predicts the outcome of the dream of Pharaoh’s wine steward, who is reinstated, and the dream of Pharaoh’s baker, who is hanged. In spite of his promise, the wine steward forgets to help Yosef, and Yosef languishes in prison.


Wanting and Seeking

“And Yaakov dwelled…” (37:1)

A cardinal rule when analyzing the lives of the Patriarchs is that when the Torah describes their failings it always speaks relative to their lofty spiritual level. G-d judges the righteous to within a hair’s breadth; the higher the spiritual level of a person the more penetrating and uncompromising is G-d’s inspection of their deeds and motives.

With this in mind we can appreciate a comment by the Alschich on this week’s Torah portion.

Rashi tells us that the first word in this week’s Torah portion — Vayeshev — implies that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, and G-d said: “Is it not sufficient for the righteous the portion which is set for them in the World-to-Come, rather they should seek to dwell in tranquility also in this world? As a result of this, G-d sprung upon him the ordeal of the loss of his favorite son Yosef and the assumption for twenty-one years that Yosef had been killed.

Why was Yaakov punished so severely for wanting a normal life? What’s wrong with living in comfort and peace? Why couldn’t Yaakov enjoy the dividends of his good deeds in this world, and the principal await him in the next world?

There’s a big difference between “wanting” and “seeking.”

Rashi uses the word “seeking” here.

One can want to have comfort and tranquility in this world. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And if G-d sends it to us we should be very grateful. However, we should never exert ourselves to achieve that material comfort. If, through a modicum of effort, G-d blesses our labors, then the fruits are permitted to us.

However, we must never allow ourselves to be distracted from our true mission in this world — to serve G-d, to do the mitzvot and to meet life’s challenges. If the desire for material comfort and success becomes our goal, then we have missed the point.

On his level Yaakov made more than the acceptable level of effort to achieve a tranquil life.

Rashi doesn’t say “he wanted” to dwell in tranquility, but rather that “he sought.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting. However for someone on the level of Yaakov Avinu to take active steps, however minimal, to achieve that “want” was considered a flaw.

  • Source: as seen in Talelei Orot

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