Settling Down of Just Settling

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, VaYeshev,  we read, “Yaakov settles in the land of his father’s sojourning , in the land of Canaan.” (Genesis 37:1) There is a clear juxtaposition of his commitment to be in the land while his father never really settled there. Avraham traveled widely, but according to the plain read of the Bible his father, Yitzhak, never even left the land of Canaan.  So if living your whole life some where is sojourning, what is the meaning of Yaakov’s settling?

There is story of the prince whose father asked him to decide if he wanted to inherit his father’s castle or build his own. The prince knew that if he chose his father’s castle he would never be secure as to how sound the foundation was and he would always live in fear of collapse. The prince was confident that if he built his own castle the foundation would unshakable. However, the prince knew that he would never achieve the splendor of his father’s castle. When I tell this story, people always want to know, “So Nu?, What did he pick?”. As with everything else Jewish in the world, the question is better then the answer. In this case, it is even more frustrating in that it is the question of the modern era.

We live in an amazing time of freedom and many choices. Ironically having the whole world readily available via computer does not make selection easier. Never before have we been plagued by so many choices to make.  In our consumerist culture, we often succumb to the “temptation of temptation” (See Levinas). While we know that it is hard to focus and concentrate, we always want to know what is next. It is as if we are stuck on the Midrachov, trying to talk to people while we are looking over their shoulders looking for the next person to engage.

Yitzhak did not know anything else, there was no choice involved in living in the Land of Canaan. In the case of Yaakov, this was a choice. However, for the man who spent his whole life running, this represents his commitment to look no further. Even when he leaves this land for Egypt, he maintains his commitment to his homeland by mandating his burial there.

What does it mean to settle down versus to settle? We should all aspire for the best in life, but at some point, we need to commit. The king deserves an answer and the prince deserves a castle.


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