According to the Midrash, Vayeshev opens with Jacob’s desire for solace and rest.
Rashi writes: Vayeshev Yaakov (and Jacob sat/rested).
Jacob wished to dwell in calm and tranquility (but then) right away the trouble of Joseph pounced upon him.
Jacob was destined to live with controversy while he was still in his mother’s womb. He lived a life that was filled with arguments and turmoil and he finally wished to rest. After competing with his brother, escaping for his life, working for his father-in-law and struggling with God, he felt that he had done his share. He finally ended his travails and reached a state of tranquility.
Could there be a problem with that?
Didn’t he earn his right to retire?
According to our rabbis, not every kind of retirement is legitimate.
As parents, friends, children, citizens and people of God, we should never let go of our basic responsibilities. Apparently, resting does not only have a positive meaning; there are some aspects of life that we are never allowed to let go of.
Jacob might not have paid enough attention as a father. His children were not getting along with each other and he might have fallen asleep when he was supposed to be on guard — a mistake that was so fatal, since his awakening was in the form of the tragedy of Joseph.
One of the most important lessons that I have personally experienced in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is that guarding is sacred. I was lucky to wake up with my sergeant supposedly pointing his gun toward me while training, rather then risking my life and the life of others in real time.
Shabbat is our day of rest and we are entitled to it at least once a week, but, just as we expect God not to abandon us, we are called not to abandon those who depend on us. There is no rest in that regard.
Part of us always needs to remain awake. In some ways, we are always struggling to remain on guard. We should never let go of our core responsibilities. This might seem a little challenging but who ever said that life is supposed to be easy?
Our name, the people of Israel, means: people who struggle with God.
We do God’s work. Our sacred work is the privilege that we have as God’s children. Yes, sometimes working hard is good and taking it too easy is bad. When we feel that we are completing our spiritual mission, the feeling of contentment can be our biggest reward.
This is also the Shabbat of Chanuka, when we celebrate the victory of the forces of light over the forces of darkness. This again demonstrates a struggle.
Our struggles are not only personal ones. In order to create miracles we need to work together.
Being a part of a kehila k’dosha (sacred community) allows us not to detach ourselves from our community. We can’t feed the hungry by ourselves, but we can do it as a team.
As the poet wrote: “Kol echad hu or katan, Ve kulanu or eitan!” each one of us is a small light, and together we are a great light!
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)