Volume 3 Issue 9
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Yaakov's struggles were over -- or at least he thought
so. He had met the challenge of living 22 years with a conniving
uncle; he had held back the malicious advances made by Esav and
had appeased him properly. His daughter was rescued from the clutches
of an evil prince, and though his children had attacked and decimated
the city of Shechem, the neighboring countries did not seek revenge.
This week the portion begins "Vayeshev Yaakov," and
Yaakov settled. The Midrash tells us that Yaakov wanted to rest.
The Midrash continues that the Almighty did not approve of Yaakov's
retirement plans. Hashem asked, "are the righteous not satisfied
with the World to Come? They would want to rest in this world
too?" Immediately, says the Midrash, the incident with Yoseph
occurred. Yoseph is kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave,
thus throwing Yaakov's tumultuous existence into another 22 years
What exactly is the objection toward Yaakov's desire to rest?
Why couldn't the father of the 12 tribes spend the final third
of his life in tranquillity?
On the fast day of the Tenth of Teves, during the height
of World War II, Rabbi Ahron Kotler took the well known activist
Irving Bunim on a train trip to Washington. The war in Europe
was raging, Jews were being exterminated, and the two had to see
a high-ranking Washington official to plead with him in every
possible way -- "save our brothers." On the way
down to Washington Rabbi Kotler tried to persuade Bunim to break
his fast. "Bunim," he explained. "You cannot fast
now. You need your strength for the meeting."
But Irving Bunim refused to eat. He was sure that he could
hold out until the evening when the fast ended.
The meeting was intense. Rabbi Kotler cried, cajoled, and begged
the official to respond. Finally, the great rabbi felt that he
impressed upon the man the severity of the situation. The man
gave his commitment that he would talk to the President. When
they left the meeting Bunim was exhausted. He mentioned to Rabbi
Kotler that he thought the meeting went well and now he'd like
Rav Ahron was quick to reply. "With Hashem's help it will
be good. And Bunim," he added, "now you can fast!"
Yaakov wanted to rest. However, Hashem had a different view. There
is no real rest in this world. As much as one has accomplished,
there is always another battle -- another test. The moment one
declares victory, another battle looms.
This week we celebrate Chanukah. The words Chanukah mean
"they rested on the 25th (of Kislev)." It was not a
total rest. Just one rest from one battle. The Hasmoneans had
to rededicate the desecrated Temple, re-light the Menorah,
and re-establish the supremacy of Torah over a Hellenist culture
that had corrupted Jewish life. They rested from physical battle,
but they knew that there would be a constant battle over spirituality
for ages to come. They established the Menorah-lighting
ceremony with flames that have glowed until today proclaiming
with each flicker that the battle may be over but the war is endless
-- until the final rest.
Good Shabbos and Ah Frailechen Chanukah ©1996
Rabbi Mordecai Kamenetzky