Midreshet Amit


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Yaakov's "Settling"

By: Rabbi Jonathan Duker

Commenting on the phrase “Yaakov settled” in the beginning of this week’s parsha, Rashi paraphrases a midrash that states ‘Since Yaakov desired to settle in peace, the troubles related to Joseph [and the brothers] sprang upon him, for HKBH said “Is it not enough for tzadikkim to have what is prepared for them in olam habaah that they look to settle peacefully in this world as well?’”

This comment of Rashi comes across as a bit harsh. Does Yaakov, who was on the receiving end of death threats from his twin brother, forced to move to a foreign land, tricked into marrying the wrong bride and working for twenty years, confronted by a violent angel, witness to the death of his wife as well as the abduction of his daughter and a mass killing by his sons, deserve punishment for wanting to take a little break?

Perhaps Rashi’s statement does not refer to a specific Divine punishment, but rather to a natural consequence that occurs when someone as exceptional as Yaakov does not occupy himself with accomplishing specific goals. Extraordinary people cannot sit around passively, rather must involve themselves in extraordinary projects. This idea can be seen in Sefer Shmuel, which tells of “the time when kings go forth to battle, and David sent Yoav and his servants [to war]” while “David remained still at Jerusalem.” David, the lifelong warrior, is seen choosing a sedentary life, sending others out to do battle for him. What follows immediately after is the low point in David’s spiritual life: the episode of Batsheva and Uriah.    

Rashi’s lesson is that “settling in peace” is not an option for everyone. Some people are destined for greatness. The question for those people is whether they will choose their battles or the battlefield will come to them. 

Rabbi Jonathan Duker received his rabbinical ordination from the Rabbi Zalman Nehemia Goldberg and from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Jewish History from Yeshiva University. Rabbi Duker has been teaching rabbinic thought and halakha in Israel since his aliyah in the summer of 2004, and is the author of The Spirits Behind the Law: The Talmudic Scholars (Urim Publications). He lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife Susan and their 4 children.