Parsing the Parsha: No Rest for the Righteous

Editor’s Note:  Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and is currently studying at a yeshiva in Israel.

Parshas Vayeishev describes Yaakov as settled, implying permanency.  The Midrash infers from this that after his long exile and struggles, Yaakov wished to finally settle down in tranquility.[1] Yaakov reasonably thought that after siring the progenitors of the twelve tribes, working for Lavan, surviving his confrontation with Esav, and suffering the rape of a daughter and violence in Shechem, he had accomplished his mission of laying down the foundation for the future Jewish nation. However, Hashem saw it differently. We see that Yaakov’s tests were not yet at end, because shortly after this verse Yaakov’s son Yoseph disappears.

On Yaakov’s continued labors, Rashi comments: “[Whenever] the righteous seek to live in tranquility, G-d says ‘Is it not sufficient for the righteous [to have] what has been prepared for them in the World-to-Come that they should also want to live in tranquility in this world?’”[2]

This is not to say that the righteous are not deserving of any comfort in this world. In fact, Yaakov spent the last seventeen years of his life in spiritual bliss.[3] It simply means that Yaakov’s mission was not yet complete. Indeed it is not us, but G-d who determines when we have accomplished what we must do in life.

Tzaddikim (the righteous) are often called on to do more, because they are among a small few who are able to best carry out Hashem’s will. The greater the person, the more challenges they face, precisely because they are able to overcome them.

In the end we are not the ones to decide when our job is finished. Judaism teaches that Hashem has a specific plan for each of us. As long as we are alive, it is up to us to figure out what is our mission in this world, actualize our potential, and fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Gotkin.


[1]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198

[2]Metsuda Chumash/Rashi, page 416

[3]Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 198