Torah Study in Exile Opens the Gates of the World to Come
Concerning the first verse of our parsha, “And Jacob dwelled in the land of his father’s sojournings” (Genesis 37:1), our Sages make the following comment: “Jacob wished to live at ease in this world, whereupon he was attacked by Joseph’s Satan [i.e., by troubles concerning Joseph]” (Bereshith Rabba 84:3).
During his entire life, our father Jacob had remained in the tents of Torah of Shem and Eber, to the point that he was described as “an upright [tam] man” (Genesis 25:27). The letters of the word tam are the same as those of the word mot (“death”), for he literally killed himself for the Torah. That being the case, how can we say that he wanted to live at ease? How can we define him as a man who wanted to live in peace? Was it for this reason that he received such a severe punishment as the calamity surrounding Joseph?
Furthermore, we know that Jacob encountered tragedy and suffering throughout his life, namely the tragedy surrounding Dinah, the pain caused by Laban, and suffered engendered by Esau, etc. As a result, perhaps he now wanted to really live in peace, studying Torah without such problems and constant hardships? Why would that – the desire to study Torah in peace and tranquility – earn him such a severe punishment?
Insofar as Torah study is concerned, we find two fundamental elements. The first is the effort that we put into it, as the Sages have said on the verse: “If you walk in My laws” (Leviticus 26:3). They explain this to mean that without effort, it is impossible for a person to acquire the Torah, for its understanding can only take root in a person through the toil of study.
The second element is exiling oneself to a place of Torah; that is, not remaining in a single place to study, but instead going elsewhere to acquire the Torah. The saintly Ohr HaChaim, in the seventh of 42 explanations that he gives on “if you walk in My laws,” states that the word “walk” literally means walking. It means not studying in the same place, but going to another place of Torah. We can thereby conserve all that we have studied, as we have already been taught: “Exile yourself to a place of Torah” (Perkei Avoth 4:14).
Throughout his life, our father Jacob was known as a man who exiled himself for Torah. He went to study in the Beit Midrash of Shem and Eber for 14 years, and concerning him it is said: “Jacob arrived whole at the city of Shechem” (Genesis 33:18). This means that he was “whole in his learning” (Shabbat 33b), having forgotten nothing while living with Laban. These two elements were found in Jacob: He put an effort into studying Torah, and he exiled himself to study it. It was in this way that he succeeded in acquiring everything possible in Torah, to the point that he became the greatest of the Patriarchs.
Yet here in our parsha, Jacob wanted to rid himself of one these elements of successful Torah study. He suddenly wanted to settle down in peace and tranquility to study it, without having to exile himself. This is why he was immediately assailed by the calamity involving Joseph. At that point the Holy One, blessed be He, said: “They [the righteous] are not content with what is in store for them in the Hereafter, that they wish to dwell at ease even in this world!” (Bereshith Rabba 84:3). This means that in the World to Come, the righteous live in peace and tranquilly and bask in the radiance of the Shechinah. In this world, however, one who wants to be righteous must journey from one place to the next to study Torah. He must not settle down in tranquility in this world, but instead exile himself to a place of Torah, for it is only in this way that he can preserve his learning.
From this we see just how important it is to travel to a place of Torah, to go elsewhere for Torah study. The Gemara speaks of an Amora who traveled for three months on his way to a school, and three months on his way back, all in order to study for a single day (Hagigah 5b). The reason for this is simple: If a person were to stay home and study, it would become so routine for him that he would sense almost no renewal in his study. The Torah might eventually become a heavy burden to him, and he might possibly tell himself that it is better to drop it entirely.
However when a person goes to a place of Torah, it takes on tremendous importance for him. “I’ve traveled such a long way for the Torah, I have to study it like a true Ben Torah,” he will tell himself. This is why exile increases the importance of Torah, thereby making us study it in greater depth and pushing us to be more diligent. We will thereby secure the second element for acquiring the Torah, namely putting an effort into its study.
If we were to examine the importance of going to a place of Torah, we would see that one who travels far for Torah gains an extra benefit.
When a person finds himself in familiar surroundings, near his home, he knows both the place and the people there. As a result, he is automatically drawn to his circle of friends and behaves accordingly, studying Torah and performing mitzvot. Yet what happens when he leaves his home and goes to study Torah elsewhere? He suddenly knows neither the place nor the people there. He then begins to feel that Torah study is a burden, and he has great difficulty in knowing how to conduct himself.Yet it is precisely at that point – if he manages to overcome these difficulties in a new, distant reality, and puts a real effort into Torah study – that his reward becomes that much greater. This does not necessarily mean going to another country, for even yeshiva students who go to another place or another city to study Torah are also fulfilling the adage, “Exile yourself to a place of Torah.” They will therefore earn a great reward from Hashem.