What’s Wrong With Relaxing?

Vayeishev Yaakov b’eretz megurei aviv b’eretz Canaan (Bereishis 37:1)

After emerging triumphant from his struggles against Lavan and Esav, Yaakov returned to live in Canaan, his homeland. Rashi notes that the word vayeishev — he settled — connotes permanence, and explains that the Torah deliberately used this phrase to teach us that after his lengthy exile, Yaakov desired to settle down and live in tranquility. However, Hashem rejected his plan, maintaining that the tremendous reward waiting for the righteous in the World to Come makes it inappropriate for them to seek comfort in this world as well.

As a result, Yaakov’s suffering continues with the kidnapping of his beloved son Yosef. It is difficult to understand the error in Yaakov’s reasoning. After the emotional roller coasters that he recently experienced, wasn’t he entitled to a bit of peace and quiet?

Harav Shimon Sofer, zt”l, explains that a person who has everything he wants and has accomplished all his objectives will become disgusted with his life, for he has nothing left to achieve or look forward to. For a person to be happy, it is vital that he always have goals that he is striving to reach. Moreover, something that is attained after intense efforts and longing will be far more pleasurable than something that is handed to a person on a silver platter without him sensing its lack and desiring it.

Rav Sofer suggests that the well-known verse in Ashrei (Tehillim 145:16) that states, “Posei’ach es yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon,” which literally means, “You (Hashem) open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature,” can also be interpreted as saying, “You open Your hand and provide every living creature with ratzon — goals and aspirations,” thereby giving meaning to our lives and enabling us to experience the sweet sense of accomplishment after we work hard and fulfill our objectives.

With this introduction, Rav Sofer writes that Rashi’s comment about Yaakov can be interpreted as saying that if the righteous enjoy an idyllic existence in this world, with no struggles or setbacks, they will not be able to fully appreciate the perfection of the World to Come. To give them the proper reward for their righteousness, including the ability to fully appreciate it, Hashem causes the righteous to experience suffering in this world to make them yearn for tranquility. This craving will maximize their pleasure and enjoyment when their goal is met and they experience the utopia of the World to Come.

Extending this concept, Harav Yisroel Reisman adds that as praiseworthy as it is to finally reach a sought-after milestone, it is also fraught with danger. People spend years counting down to retirement, but the day they finally reach it is bittersweet, for they often discover that they no longer have any goals to imbue their lives with meaning. According to an unauthenticated story, when Alexander the Great finished conquering the world he began to cry, explaining that there was nothing left for him to overcome, and he died shortly thereafter.

Rav Reisman cites the Gemara’s teaching (Sanhedrin 106a) that wherever the word vayeishev appears in Tanach, it is a precursor to suffering. The Gemara cites three examples of this theme, one of which comes from the opening verse of Parashas Vayeishev, which is a prelude to the sale of Yosef into slavery in Egypt.

What is the deeper connection between the word vayeishev and suffering? In his Derech Chaim commentary on Pirkei Avos (2:2), the Maharal explains that a person who relaxes and sits comfortably (as connoted by the term vayeishev), showing that he views himself as already complete, is spiritually lacking. This person’s deficiencies make him prone to sin, which is a precursor to punishment.

Q: There are 12 dreams in Parashas Vayeishev. How many of them can you identify?

A: The Chizkuni and Hadar Zkeinim explain that Yosef had not two dreams, but three. When he told his brothers about his dream in which their sheaves bowed down to his sheaf, the Torah records (37:8) that they hated him because of his (plural) dreams.

What was the other dream for which they also hated him? In his commentary on the Torah, Harav Ovadiah Bartenura posits that Yosef’s first dream was that 10 lights cannot extinguish one light (see Rashi, Bereishis 50:21).

This dream was Yosef’s way of informing his brothers that although they hated him because of the preferential treatment he received from Yaakov, they would not be able to eliminate him. This dream was fulfilled when they threw Yosef into a pit full of scorpions and snakes (Rashi 37:24), yet he survived.

Yosef’s third dream involved the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing down to him (37:9). The Arvei Nachal points out that Yosef told Pharaoh (41:32) that dreams that will come true are repeated, and he suggests that Yosef similarly dreamed each of his dreams twice, for a total of six dreams.

At the end of Parashas Vayeishev (40:5), the baker and cupbearer each had dreams. The Gemara teaches that in addition to their own dream, each of them also dreamed the interpretation of the other one’s dream. Thus, each of them had two dreams, which brings us up to 10.

Finally, the Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh writes that every night for two years, beginning on his birthday at the end of Parashas Vayeishev (40:20) and continuing until his birthday two years later at the beginning of Parashas Mikeitz, Pharaoh had the same two dreams about seven gaunt cows eating seven robust cows, and seven thin stalks of grain consuming seven healthy stalks.

Pharaoh forgot those dreams when he woke up, until the final night, when he remembered them. Pharaoh’s two dreams brings us to a total of 12 dreams in Parashas Vayeishev.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.