“And Yaakov dwelt in the land of his father’s sojournings…” (Breishit 37:1)
In his explanation on this pasuk, Rashi cites the Midrash:
“[When] Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility, the troubles of Yosef sprang upon him. The righteous seek to dwell in tranquility. Said HaKadosh Baruch Hu, ‘It is not sufficient for the righteous that which is prepared for them in the world to come, but they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world [too]!’”
I believe that this Midrash pertains to the concept of assuming responsibility, which can be interpreted in two different ways:
- Taking responsibility for one’s actions and their consequences
- Taking responsibility for one’s environment, city, and nation
In fact, both interpretations are valid. After all, assuming responsibility means recognizing the hidden potential of one’s deeds – for good and for bad – and then acting based on that recognition.
This Midrash teaches us about a tzadik’s mission. A tzadik (righteous man) is one who always looks for ways to help and to contribute and constantly tries to figure out how he can best influence those around him. Thus, Yaakov is unable “to dwell in tranquility” and focus only on his own spiritual growth. Instead, he never stops worrying about others’ needs and concerns – including “the troubles of Yosef”.
Rachel and Yaakov’s disagreement over Binyamin’s name is another example of someone taking responsibility. Rachel names her second son Ben Oni, but Yaakov calls him Binyamin. (See Breishit 35:18.) Rav Yaakov Meidan, Rosh Yeshivat Har Etzion, has a beautiful explanation. In Parshat Vayeitze, Rachel steals her father’s trafim (Breishit 31:19), and she now believes that her death is a consequence of her sin. Hence, she names her son Ben Oni (literally, “the son of my sin”). In contrast, Yaakov understands his wife’s death to be a result of his vow to Lavan that the one who took the trafim will surely die. Therefore, he calls his son Binyamin (literally, “the son of the right [hand]” – in the Torah, oaths are frequently represented by the right hand). In other words, instead of accusing each other, both Yaakov and Rachel assume responsibility and shoulder the blame.
Similarly, in our parsha, we see that Yehudah takes responsibility for his actions and publicly admits that Tamar had spoken correctly:
“She is right, [it is] from me.” (Breishit 38:26)
In my opinion, a shaliach’s role manifests both aspects of taking responsibility. When one accepts such a position, one is – by definition – assuming responsibility for the rest of Klal Yisrael. And at the same time, shlichim are charged with sanctifying the Name of Heaven, taking responsibility for their own actions, and serving as role models and exemplars of bnei Torah from Tzion.
May we be privileged to fulfill our shlichuyot in the best possible manner, and may Chazal’s words be said in reference to each and every one of Eretz Yisrael’s shlichim:
“Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah; fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah. Woe onto those people who did not learn Torah. Ploni – who learned Torah – see how pleasant are his ways; how refined are his deeds.” (BT Yoma 86a)