Ever Forward. Ever Forward.
Life is full of truly difficult challenges.
Our paths are frequently strewn with agonizing, confounding and maddening obstacles.
It’s only natural that after going through a trying, challenging time, that we want a break, a little peace and quiet. It’s human nature to try to avoid obstacles, impediments and difficulties; to seek a calm, stable life. And there is good reason for this. After all, can’t we achieve more when things are going smoothly? Isn’t tranquility conducive to avodat Hashem, to thoughtful prayer, deep learning, and the ability to help others? Don’t difficult times mitigate against peace of mind, against simcha?
This is precisely what we see happening in the life of Yacov. After the years of trial and torment that Yacov endured with Esav and Lavan, when the challenges were finally behind him, our parsha opens with the words: “Vayeshev Yacov,” and as Rashi says, “Yacov sought respite and tranquility.” As understandable as Yacov’s desire was, our sages tell us something startling: “Wherever one finds the word vayeshev, it’s meant as an expression of tsar, of pain and difficulty.” It seems that the very act of restful respite from the challenges of life holds within it the seeds of challenges to come. And even further, our sages say that Hashem looked askance at Yacov’s very desire for respite. “And God said, ‘Is it not sufficient what the righteous will have in the next world, they also want to dwell in tranquility in this world?”
But why should that be? Why would God care, why would He be bothered by Yacov’s desire for some peace? Why would God’s world be hardwired for impending difficulties to be imbedded in the desire for tranquility?
Not Yet and Ever Forward
The answer is that menucha and tranquility don’t really fit neatly into this world. They fit naturally in a place of “completion-shlaimut,” a place where purpose has been fulfilled, where there is nothing left to accomplish. However, as long as there is a realm, a world that is lacking and incomplete, then strenuous, pro-active effort is an existential imperative. Indeed, these are the efforts that move us ever forward, and it’s this ever-forwardness that goes to the heart of what our lives are about. Ever forward. Completing that which remains incomplete, achieving that which lays undone, fixing that which is broken. And, since it’s the righteous that potentially effect the deepest healing and fixing in our world, it’s davka them who need to always be on call, so to speak. Ever forward, ever forward.
So why do we so crave peace and tranquility?
That’s because tranquility is where our roots lay. Our souls descended from Gan Eden, from a place of pure, complete harmony and tranquility: And deep down, we long for home, we yearn to return there. There, peaceful. There, tranquil. But that’s a place that is yet to come, a destination that brooks no short cuts.
Our world is a world that is fundamentally and profoundly lacking. The fabric of our existence is incomplete and frayed. Our essential challenge then, perhaps the one challenge that is the root of all challenges, is to embrace the the reality and nature of the creation that surrounds us, like the air we breathe. The creation that is wanting and lacking, the creation that is begging us to to undertake whatever we can, whenever we can, to move things ever forward, ever forward.
As for menucha, as for tranquility. Beware the illusion. In truth, right now, in this world, that’s not what we are here for. And as for those times when we do have menucha, when we are fortunate enough to have a “taste”—a m’ayn olam ha’ba—well, those are a bonus of sorts, but they’re not what we’re here for.
We’re in this Together
This is a challenging message, the challenging message. A message we’d all rather not hear, but the truth is, within this message is the key to genuine happiness and fulfillment. Because when we are able to stare down the tension between how we wish things were, and how they actually are; when we are able to access resiliency in the face of our desire for menucha, and to reach out and take hold of life’s many challenges, lackings and needs; that’s when we are engaged with life in the fullest way possible. In the way we were created for. You see, when it’s menucha we seek, then we are actually seeking a “place” where the life options in front us are trivial compared to what they could be. Inevitably that which we are turning away from in our quest for menucha has a way of finding us nonetheless. We can’t hide or flee from the demands of an incomplete world because it is the very nature of the world. It can’t be escaped any more than the ground beneath our feet.
Yet, this is just the beginning.
There’s a higher place, a higher perspective. An outlook where we take deep pleasure in the life, the challenging nature of life, that we have been given. Why? Because tranquility is static. It’s the antithesis of growth and progress, of ever forward, ever forward.
And we understand this. The more effort we put forth, the more blossoming we see; blossoming of character, potential, of life: Of self. People pay a lot of money to belong to a gym. Well, this world is a gym. A gym perfectly designed to work out and build every fiber and sinew of our deepest, most beautiful inner muscles. The fibers of our nefesh, ruach and neshama—every aspect of our souls.
And so, in and from this higher place, this place that is, yes, within our reach, is that which our sages say: “The righteous have no menucha, not in this world and not in the next, as it says, ‘you shall go from strength to strength.’” This teaches us that the deepest, richest pleasure attainable is that of ever forward, ever forward; the pleasure of building, fixing and completing more, and more and more. And indeed, the path to “sweetening” the genuine pain entwined in all that is lacking, and in our setbacks and stumblings, is to know that within them is the calling to keep moving and striving: Ever forward. Forward to a place beyond complaint, to a place of thank you! For striving and achieving. For ever forward. For life.
Translation by Shimon Apisdorf