Vayeshev: Don’t Get Comfortable

Pain Has Purpose

The name of this week’s Torah portion (and its first word) is “Vayeshev” – commonly translated as “sit” or “settle down.” The Talmud teaches that the word “vayeshev” is used to introduce a painful event. In this case Jacob is “vayashev” (sitting or settling) in the land of Canaan before a series of disturbing events involving Joseph and his older brothers. Joseph’s jealous brothers sell him into slavery and then bring his special coat, stained with animal blood, to their father Jacob as “proof” that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast. Jacob just wants to sit in peace but instead is interrupted with the horrific report of Joseph’s supposed death.

Why does the Torah connect sitting with pain? Perhaps because our holy mission in this world is to serve God and we shouldn’t “sit down on the job.” The more obstacles we overcome, the greater is our service. Human suffering elevates the soul and brings us closer to the Holy One; a righteous life is not a comfortable one. Jacob may want to sit back and relax, but instead God sends him a heartbreaking ordeal which ultimately strengthens his faith. In the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “We must translate pain into action and tears into growth.”

Image: “Joseph’s coat brought to Jacob” by Jan Victors, 1649

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