This week’s portion begins with the verse that Jacob “was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan.” As I read this verse, I began to think about what that idea of “settled” could mean. It had a special ring to given the craziness of this week. It was one of “those weeks”! We have all had them. I began to think about so many of us who reach a time in life where we wish to be “settled”; and then real life takes over. In the Etz Hayim commentary, it cites a Rashi that says that “Jacob thought he was going to sttle down after all he had been through, but events would not permit him to”. (p.226)
The rest of the portion demonstrates the truth of the idea that we never really do know what will happen next. Jacob has to deal with his children’s jealous acts concerned his favorite son Joseph and then there is this issue with his son Judah and Tamar. Jacob’s life seems far from being “settled”. What a “retirement!”. Of course, we know many who may have retired from full time work, thinking of a more leisurely future, only to be tossed into new challenges by events that were unexpected, from health to family to maybe new life possibilities.
The Torah portion can be asking us if we are ever really settled in life? I think not. I think that one of the subtle messages of Vayeshev is that we are always subject to what I call the randomness of life. Yes, this is the old Yiddish expression of “man plans and God laughs”. How many of us have lived this? So once again we come to a recurring theme of Torah study: how do we choose to deal with the unexpected in life? We see this all the time and so many of our generation can look back from the perspective of life experience and see how the choices we have made helped crate the person we are now.
So as you study the portion this Shabbat, let yourself ask what that concept “settled”” may mean to you especially at this stage of life. I would not be surprised if, as you survey the people at the table, that the answers will be as varied as those who are there. We may never really be “settled” until we draw our last breath.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.