The Tzaddik Lights the Way in Serving Hashem
It is written, “Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Rashi cites the Sages in stating that the word vayeishev (“and he dwelled”) indicates that Jacob wanted to dwell in tranquility, yet the troubles of Joseph sprang upon him (see Bereshith Rabba 84:3). Rashi states: “[When] the righteous seek to dwell in tranquility, G-d says: ‘Is what is prepared for the righteous in the World to Come not enough for them, such that they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world?’ ”
The commentators are surprised at this, for was Jacob not entitled to a little peace and quiet in life, especially after all the years of suffering with Laban, Esau, and Dinah? That goes without even mentioning the war brought about by the murder of the inhabitants of Shechem (Genesis 34:30). Here was a chance for Jacob to finally have some peace and quiet, a time to devote himself to Torah study and serving Hashem after seeing that all his children turned out to be tzaddikim. We must also understand why his peace was disrupted precisely by the events surrounding Joseph, rather than in another way.
There is another problem here. As a Rav once told me, citing some great Torah figures, the land of Canaan carries a name that designates submission (keniah and hachna’ah). A person who lives in the land of Israel, the palace of the King and the place where Hashem’s glory appears, must be especially filled with humility and reverence before the glory and grandeur of Hashem. The word megurei (“sojournings”) also suggests fear, as in “Vayagar was Moab” (Numbers 22:3), which Rashi explains as meaning fear. It follows that Jacob served Hashem in humility and fear, and he also cared for his father with self-effacement and submission, even though he himself was already at a high level at that time. This is difficult to understand, for how can these two things – peace on one hand and fear on the other – go together, since they seem contradictory? If we say that the peace in question consisted of serving Hashem in fear and submission, then why would Jacob actually be refused this?
We may say that the tzaddik bears a resemblance to the Holy One, blessed be He, in miniature. This is similar to the idea expressed by, “The fear for your teacher [should be as] the fear of Heaven” (Perkei Avoth 4:12). Hence everyone should learn from him with regards to the service of Hashem, character traits, prayer, and Torah study. As a result, the slightest deviation in the conduct of a tzaddik is liable to provoke disaster. We see that the Holy One, blessed be He, punished the tzaddikim on several occasions because they caused a profanation of His Name, even if it occurred in the minutest way possible.
In general, however, the tzaddikim teach us that the service of Hashem should be accompanied with arduous work and effort, as it is written: “Man is born to toil” (Job 5:7). Here the Sages explain that man “was created to labor in the Torah” (Sanhedrin 99b). Nevertheless, there are some who learn from the tzaddikim that we must indeed work, yet they do not use this understanding to actually toil in the study of Torah. Instead, they are content on applying themselves to mitzvot that have a connection to this world. That is not the right path to follow. From the tzaddik we must learn to put our efforts only into the service of Hashem, Torah study, and prayer. It is in this way that we must serve Hashem – with laborious effort – since in peace and tranquilly we are liable to relax and stumble. This is not the case when we actually exert ourselves, for this maintains our alertness and pushes us to constantly yearn for greater progress and to elevate ourselves in Torah and the fear of Heaven, including the performance of mitzvot that deal with our world. Consequently, let us say that Jacob certainly wanted to serve Hashem through laborious effort. The Sages said (Tanhuma Vayeishev 1) that the word vayeishev denotes pain, as it is written: “Vayeishev Israel [And Israel dwelled] in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry” (Numbers 25:1). Furthermore, the word megurei denotes the fact of being a sojourner, for Jacob studied the Torah in exile, in accordance with the Sages’ adage: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah” (Perkei Avoth 4:14). There is no greater pain than the pain of exile, for exile atones in the same way as death (see Sanhedrin 37b and Rashi starting from the word shelosha).
From all this we learn that Jacob certainly served Hashem in pain (vayeishev), fear, and in exile (megurei), as well as with humility (Canaan). However he did this with a great deal of discretion, to the point that none of this could be seen on the outside. On the contrary, he gave people the impression that he was living in peace, acting in this way so as not to become proud and begin loving honor. Jacob also did this in order not to damage his father’s honor, for perhaps people would respect Jacob more than his father. The result, however, was that people did not learn how to act and serve Hashem from Jacob. Hence the Holy One, blessed be He, was not satisfied with Jacob’s conduct. In fact people did not pay attention to him and thought that this was how a person should serve G-d, namely in peace and tranquility. Now this is incorrect, and Jacob should have demonstrated the importance of effort on the outside, not to abstain out of fear that people might overly respect him.
This is why the tragedy involving Joseph struck Jacob. He did not teach everyone – for his generation and the generations to come – that there can be no peace for the tzaddikim in this world. He did not teach them that peace resides in the self-effacement and humility that tzaddikim demonstrate in serving Hashem. There is no other peace than this for the tzaddik, and he must serve Hashem openly in order for everyone to learn this from him. If he acts with discretion, he should not do so because of some potential risk to the honor of another – such as Jacob’s fear of infringing upon the honor of his father Isaac – but because of the importance of discretion itself. Now since Jacob did not teach this to everyone, he was assailed with the tragedy of Joseph, making it impossible for him to continue living in peace, as he had wanted.From here we learn that the primary component of Torah study is laborious effort, something that the tzaddik must teach to the entire generation. In turn the generation must learn this from the tzaddik. They must not believe that the Torah can be acquired in peace and tranquilly. This is why the Torah revealed in our parsha that even when something appears peaceful on the outside, lofty things are hidden on the inside, namely a life of pain and submission. This is vayeishev – denoting pain – which teaches that our effort is the primary component in the path of Torah, and that the tzaddik must teach this to everyone. If the generation of the tzaddik manages to learn this from him, it will be good for it in this world and the World to Come.