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Enjoy your vacations, but remember: They complement life, they don’t replace it.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeishev” (Genesis 37:1–40:23), and in it we read the story of how Jacob’s sons sold their brother Joseph into captivity in Egypt (only after abandoning their plan to murder him), which led to Joseph sitting in an Egyptian jail for many years after being falsely accused of “starting up” with Potiphar’s wife. Potiphar was essentially the second in command of Egypt.

As one can see from the past several Torah portions, Jacob did not have an easy life. There was the Jacob-and-Esau fiasco; the swindler father-in-law who tricked him into marrying Leah instead of Rachel; Rachel, who he married after another seven years of working for Laban, died in childbirth; the rape of Jacob’s daughter…and the list goes on. Jacob had a harder life than any of the patriarchs and possibly harder than any other leading Biblical figure.

The commentators dissect each of Jacob’s misfortunes and try to understand what they mean and why they had to happen. Let’s discusses this week’s misfortune: Why did Jacob deserve that Joseph, his favorite son, would be sold as a slave to Egypt and that he would go many years without seeing him? This caused Jacob to live a life of intense mourning.

It is explained that the answer to this question can be found right in the name of the Torah portion – “Vayeshev” – which means “and Jacob rested.” This refers to Jacob wanting to take a break from life, to take a vacation from reality. He had it rough and wanted to escape. God did not like this approach.

What’s wrong with needing a vacation after so much hardship? Everyone needs a vacation every so often, especially after going through such a difficult time. However, it is explained that there are vacations, and there are vacations. Is the vacation a means to an end, or is it an end unto itself? Is it a break from life, or is it life itself? It seems that Jacob was actually going for the latter, and this was his mistake.

Life isn’t easy for anyone. We all have our packages of problems and challenges that we must live with. That’s life, and that’s how we mature and grow. Taking a break from the daily struggle and routine is legitimate. Running away from it is not. We should not have the attitude that we live for our vacations, but rather that we take vacations so that we can better live and cope with life.

Jacob thought that he would run away from the world, but then God had other plans: God gave him another challenge that he would have to deal with. God was showing Jacob that there is no escape from life. In fact, an attempted escape only causes our problems to snowball. Unfortunately, Jacob had to learn this the hard way.

Enjoy your vacations, but remember: They complement life, they don’t replace it.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.




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