Living in Tranquility

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן:

“Yaaqov was living in the land where his father visited, in the land of Kenaan”
– G-d, Bereishis 37:1

רש״י: … ועוד נדרש בו, וישב יעקב, ביקש יעקב לישב בשלוה קפץ עליו רוגזו של יוסף, צדיקים מבקשים לישב בשלוה אמר הקב”ה לא דיין לצדיקים מה שמתוקן להם לעוה”ב אלא שמבקשים לישב בשלוה בעוה”ז.

… They expound something else on this. ‘Yaaqov was living’ — Yaaqov wished to live in tranquillity, [so] the rage about Joseph pounced upon him. The righteous want to live in tranquility, [but] the Holy says: Tzadiqim want to live in tranquility? Is the good that is prepared for them in the World To Come not enough, so that they desire calm and tranquillity in this world [too]?
– Rashi ad loc, based on Bereishis Rabba 84:3)

But is wanting a little peace and tranquility really so terrible?

כל עבודתנו ועמלנו תמיד מוקדשים לטובת הכלל, שלא נשתמש בשום מעשה ותנועה, הנאה ותענוג שלא יהיה בזה איזה ענין לטובת זולתנו, וכמובן בכל הקדשות שהוא התיחדות למטרה נכבדה, והנה כשהאדם מישר הליכותיו ושואף שתמיד יהיו דרכי חייו מוקדשים להכלל, אז כל מה שעושה גם לעצמו להבראת גופו ונפשו הוא מתיחס גם כן אל מצות קדושה, שעל ידי זה יטיב גם לרבים, שבטובתו לעצמו הוא מטיב עם הרבים הצריכים לו, אבל אם הוא נהנה הנאה מן סוג המותריות, שאינן דרושות להבראת גופו ונפשו, הנאה זו היא נגד הקדושה, שבזה הוא מטיב לעצמו לרגע לפי דמיונו, ולזולתו אין שום תועלת.

All of our work and effort should constantly be sanctified to doing good for the community. We should not use any act, movement, or get benefit or enjoyment that doesn’t have in it some element of helping another. And as understood, all holiness is being set apart for an honorable purpose, which is that a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community. Then, anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy, for through this he can also do good for the masses. Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on him. But if he derives benefit from some kind of permissible thing that isn’t needed for the health of his body and soul, that benefit is in opposition to holiness. For in this he is benefiting himself (for that moment as it seems to him), but to no one else does it have any value.
-Rav Shimon Shkop, Shaaarei Yosher, introduction

I noticed something once about three calendars:

The Gregorian calendar marks its New Year in the dead of winter, the darkest time of the year, and it starts the day at midnight, the darkest time of the night.

The Chinese calendar starts the year in spring (on or within a day day of Rosh Chodesh Adar, Adar II or Nissan), and the new day at dawn — both when the light, and farmer’s work, really being.

But our Jewish year begins at the start of fall, and the day begins at sunset. We tie the period of rest to the next day.* Perhaps this is because we see rest not as an end, but as means of reaching our life’s goals. To avoid burnout and exhaustion. As Rav Shimon put it, “Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on him.”

The tzadiq, like any human being, wants shalvah, tranquility. But if he is really going to be a tzadiq, and maximize his shalvah in the next world, he has to work in this one. He cannot “leisheiv beshalvah — life, or rest, in tranquility”, tranquility has to be part of the general progress of a meaningful life. And so, as soon as Yaaqov was able to reach an equilibrium, the Holy One presents him with the next set of challenges — the next set of opportunities.



* Actually, there is also an ecclesiastical year which runs from Nissan to Nissan, and the day in the Beis haMiqdash runs from dawn to dawn — remainings from offerings are burnt through the following night. Fitting the same pattern that the year’s start is reflected in the day’s. But in the Beis haMiqdash, there is no preparing for some other duty; every thought is supposed to be on the act at hand. And so the night is not considered a period of rest to get ready for the next day.

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