“He saw tranquility and it was good and the land that it was pleasant, so he bent his shoulder to bear…” (Genesis 49:15)
Our forefather Jacob describes Issachar as one who saw tranquility as a good thing. The consequence of recognizing the inherent benefits of tranquility was that Issachar bent his shoulder to bear a burden.
At first glance this seems to be a contradiction in terms. How could a desire for tranquility lead a person to accept a burden? Shouldn’t the craving for tranquility move a person to choose the path with the least resistance? Wouldn’t you expect a person who seeks peace and serenity to avoid any and all burdens?
It seems that our understanding of tranquility is flawed. We are used to thinking of tranquility as a state of inactivity. We envision serenity as a situation in which we find ourselves surrounded with every comfort and convenience.
The Torah is teaching us that this state of pleasurable inertia has nothing to do with tranquility.
King Solomon warns us against this mistake in the book of Ecclesiastes. He describes how he gathered all the pleasures of this world and he saw that it was all emptiness and an aggravation of the spirit (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Not only are the pleasures of this world empty but they also lead to aggravation and pain. The more a person attains of the pleasures of the world the more he desires. The quest for that state of pleasurable inertia is a chase after a mirage. It is an endless journey of frustration and disappointment.
However, if a person accepts that he was created to serve God, and instead of trying to ignore the yoke of observing the commandments, he willingly accepts it, then he has already attained tranquility. No longer is his life a pursuit of something that is beyond him. But every step of his life is now suffused with meaning and purpose. A person who has accepted upon themselves the yoke of serving God is not disturbed by what he does not have because he lives in the here and now. He knows that the situation in which he finds himself is exactly the situation that God has determined is best for his task in life. He lives with the words of our sages that one instant of repentance and good deeds in this world is more beautiful than all of the life of the next world. A person who bends his shoulder to bear this burden lives a life of light, joy and complete tranquility.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal