Peace and Idleness Prevent the Study of Torah

Our Sages have said, “Jacob desired to settle down in peace when he was struck with the tragic news concerning Joseph” (Bereshith Rabba 84:1).

Jacob truly wanted to enjoy peace in this world, a world that did not belong to him because he had shared worlds with his brother Esau (Tanna d’bey Eliyahu Zutah). How could he have wanted to rest peacefully in this world? And why was he struck with the bad news concerning Joseph, as opposed to another child?

It is because Jacob, a man who symbolizes the toil of study, didn’t want peace for enjoyment’s sake. Rather, he wanted to alleviate the burden of exile for his children. G-d, however, didn’t want Jacob to rest in tranquility, for in such a case his children would have been at risk of diminishing their studies and would have forgotten the Torah. The word ":*& (“and he rested”) can be restructured as ": *&, meaning that if Jacob had only aspired to rest in peace (":), he would have misled future generations to search for comfort. This would have had consequences that are disastrous (*&) because the Torah is only acquired through toil.

Thus it was the tragedy of Joseph (and precisely Joseph) that grabbed hold of Jacob because of his name; Joseph means, “who adds, who grows” (Taanith 31a). One must put in extra effort, without respite, to study Torah because this is the only thing that can rectify our exile.

The Mishpat Tzaddik confirms our hypothesis. He cites the amazing words of the Zohar as follows: “If the Children of Israel knew why G-d reprimands them more than any other people, they would understand that G-d gave up on what is due to Him” (Zohar III:66a). He explains that G-d created His legions of angels to serve Him. When He created the Jewish people, He fashioned them on the model of the Celestial Assembly (Zohar II:169b; III:66a). G-d made it such that everything that happens in the world depends on Jews. When Israel abandons the Torah and the service of G-d, the angels also stop short, for everything depends on the acts of men. When Israel abandons the path of Torah and no longer serves G-d, the Celestial Court ceases to fulfill the will of G-d, as it is written, “When Israel does not conduct itself with perfection in this world, the Name of G-d is not complete in Heaven. And so G-d says, ‘If you know that your actions prevent all the numerous legions from serving Me, you also know that you don’t deserve to continue living in this world, not even for an hour’” (Zohar III:4b).

It’s thanks to the Torah of Jacob – who is the head of the Celestial Chariot (Bereshith Rabba 82:7), “whose portrait is engraved on the Divine Throne” (Pesikta Zutah Gen 28:13) and “who himself is a throne” (Zohar I:97a) “whom G-d is so proud of” (Isa 49:3) “that is the foundation of His splendor” (Zohar III:32a) – that we glorify G-d. If Jacob rests, be it only in thought (even for the intention of devoting himself to Torah), he commits a sin that is transmitted to all his descendants.

On the basis of this, I would like to explain the expression “the voice is the voice of Jacob” (Gen 27:22). Why is the word “voice” used twice? It is because in this world, when one hears the voice of the Torah being uttered by the Children of Israel, the voice of Jacob is also being heard in Heaven. It is towards him that all the legions of angels turn. They know that the voice of the Torah is also being heard here in the world below and that men serve G-d, as it is written, “When Israel is united in this world to serve G-d, the Name of G-d is praised in the Celestial world” (Sifre Brachah 33:5). When the voice of the Torah is heard, the hand of Esau does not prevail (Bereshith Rabba 65:20), and no people can conquer Israel when he follows the ways of the Torah (Ketubot 66b). If not, Israel could not survive, not even for an instant. Why? Because when the Children of Israel forget the Torah, G-d also turns His face away in the world above, angels can no longer see the image of Jacob engraved on the Throne of Glory, and so they halt their service. Only G-d has the image of Jacob before Him, and thanks to him G-d does not punish his children with the severity that they deserve, as it is written, “when the Children of Israel sin, G-d acts as if He were sleeping” (Yalkut Shimoni Esther 1057).

May the Name of G-d be praised, Who granted more importance to the honor of the Children of Israel than to the heavenly angels that carry out His word, for it is only the study of Torah and the service of the Children of Israel that give the angels the strength to sing G-d’s praises. The Children of Israel count more than the angels because the angels stand “upright”, whereas the Children of Israel “walk about”, as it is written, “I will grant you passage among these [angels] who stand here” (Zec 3:7). The Children of Israel can be compared to the electricity that makes a motor function, which in turn runs mechanisms. In the same way, Israel makes all the worlds function.

The Sages have said, “When G-d gave the Torah, He silenced all of creation” (Shemot Rabba 29:9). Why was that necessary? Up to the giving of the Torah, the angels obeyed the will of G-d, but from the moment it was given to Israel, the latter became the world’s bearer of destiny, and all depends on Israel’s merit.

At the moment that the Torah was given, the entire world held itself silent, and there was a brief interruption in the angels’ service. It is only through the study of Torah that the world continues to exist, and the angels and the Seraphim employed in the matters of this world pursue their affairs when they hear the voice of Jacob, the voice of Torah that makes itself heard in the mouth of the Children of Israel.

However if Israel abandons the Torah, the world would not survive: “If My covenant [the Torah] with the night and with the day would not be; had I not set up the laws of heaven and earth …”, which means, “If it were not for the Torah, the Heavens and the Earth would no longer survive” (Nedarim 32a). For the angels assigned to the matters of this world perform their tasks dependent on the Children of Israel, and if the latter rest, the angels also rest.

Every Jew has a great responsibility to the Torah, especially during vacation time, free time, and during the long winter nights. If they don’t study, they put the world in danger. We learn from Jacob that one should not seek out comfort, and “Jepthath in his generation was equal to Samuel in his generation” (Rosh Hashanah 25b). If our efforts are not equal to our potential, our punishment will be great. On the other hand, if we elevate ourselves in the study of Torah to the degree that we can comprehend and understand, we will awaken Divine Favor in the supernal worlds, and we will glorify G-d in all His splendor.


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Bereshit Index
Torah and Love of Others: Reparation of the Egyptian Exile


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