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Parshat Vayeishev

By: Hannah Restle

Over the course of his lifetime, Yaakov is subject to tremendous suffering. After he takes the firstborn blessing, his brother Eisav wants to kill him and Yaakov is forced to flee from his home. He reaches the home of his uncle Lavan, but there he finds more suffering; tricked by his uncle to work 14 years for the marriage of Rachel. Even after Yaakov fights the angel in last week's parsha of Vayishlach, and wins, he must confront his brother Eisev, endure the kidnapping and rape of his daughter Dinah, and consequently suffers the death of his beloved wife Rachel. After separating from Eisav and Lavan for good, Yaakov settles down, hoping for peace and tranquility. Instead, his sons sell Yoseph into slavery and bring back his colorful tunic dipped in goats blood. Yaakov infers from this that his son is dead and "mourns his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to comfort himself and said: 'For I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.'" (37:35)

For 22 years Yaakov mourns the death of his son, while in actuality Yoseph is alive and rising to the position of Pharoah's advisor. After all the anguish Yaakov endured in his lifetime, why did he have to suffer for 22 years? Why doesn't G-d step in and alleviate his misery?

In this weeks Parsha of Vayeishev, Yaakov sends Yoseph to find his brothers "…from the Emek (depths) of Hebron" (37:14). The city of Hebron is actualy on a mountain, certainly not in the valley, as this passage states. Rashi explains that the the use of the word Emek in reference to Chevron, is not meant to imply geographic location, but rather implies the mysterious prophecy of Avraham (buried in Chevron) that "your people will be strangers in a foreign land (Egypt)" (15:13). Through Rashi's commentary the inherent connection between this weeks parsha and the story of the Jews in Egypt begins to appear; possibly suggesting a greater significance to the suffering of Yaakov, and revealing The great Orchestrator of these events- Hashem.

Following Yaakov's request, Yoseph begins to look for his brothers. According to the Torah he is "blundering in the field" unable to find his brothers until a man approaches him, asks him what he seeks, and is conveniently able to direct Yoseph to the location of his brothers. According to Rashi and Ramban, this is not just a convenient coincidence nor a random man, but an angel with a specific purpose from Hashem to ensure that Yoseph finds his brothers. The presence of this angel shows G-ds presence in the story and gives evidence that there is in fact, a divine plan being carried out to get the Jews to Egypt.

Of course it was pre-ordained in Hashem's plans that the Jews would be brought to Egypt, but why is it necessary that Yaakov endure so much suffering beforehand? The Midrash Bereishis Rabbah (86:2) answers this question by saying that 'Our father Jacob would have had to descend to Egypt in chains and a collar. Said G-d, "He is my firstborn son, shall I bring him down there in disgrace?... Rather, I will lead his son before him and he will be forced to descend after him."' Despite this seemingly disheartening story of brotherly betrayal, the suffering that occurs in this parsha is not without purpose. This intense suffering is in actuality a direct conduit to heal past mistakes, learn lessons through experience, and ultimately set the stage for the future.

So many aspects of our daily life are inexplicable. Sometimes, as soon as we triumph over one challenge, a new obstacle appears in our way. Each triumph, however, takes us to the next level on both a personal and a national level. This is the ultimate theme of Yaakovs life and a message that Rashi identifies in the very first verse of this Parshah (37:1)"Jacob settled in the land of his father's sojournings…" Rashi explains that after his long suffering Jacob wished finally to settle down and live a life of peace and tranquility. In response to this G-d says, "Are the righteous not satisfied with what awaits them in the World to Come that they expect to live at ease in This world, too?" (Rashi) Humans, not even the most righteous, are not intended to live a life of ease here on Earth. We are servants of Hashem, meant to carry out a particular role in Hashem's divine plan.

At the time, Yaakov had no way of understanding his tragedy, and he condemned the rest of his life to sorrow. Although he lives to see the reuniting of his family in Egypt, even when he dies, Yaakov was unaware of the greater significance his life and suffering contributed to the destiny of the Jewish people. When confronted with an unexplained tragedies or suffering we must remember that each of us are all part of a grander scheme and this awareness will hopefully alleviate some of our sorrows and motivate us to continue on in the sometimes hidden tracks that Hashem has laid before us.

Hannah comes to AMIT from Katonah, NY and is attending Mcgill University in the fall.