Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. (37:1)
The narrative of Jacob's later life, after his return to Canaan, is ironically captioned by this opening verse. From the earliest midrashic commentaries, microscopic attention has been paid to the apparently innocuous opening -- and titular -- word of the Parsha -- va-yeshev. On the surface a neutral account of Jacob's "settling down" in the Holy Land, after twenty years' exile in Padan Aram, the verse, the verb, has classically been read as resonant with forebodings, with a sense that Jacob has fatally misread the structure, the plot, the moral motifs of his own life: "' Jacob was settled': Jacob sought to settle in peace -- there leapt upon him the agitation of Joseph. The righteous seek to settle in peace -- God says, 'Is it not enough for the righteous, what is prepared for them in the world to come, that they seek to settle in peace in this world?'"1
There is a poignant undertow to the word va-yeshev, as Rashi reads it. Quite reasonably, in the way that all righteous people do -- the statement about the desire for peace is unqualified (without "if" or "when") -- Jacob would like to settle his life, to find some measure of tranquillity after all his troubles. One might even say that it is characteristic of righteous people to yearn for such a "settling," a clarification of the turbulences and anguish of life. But God rebuffs this yearning, in a tone of strange sarcasm: "Is it not enough?" In God's rhetoric, the righteous are made to seem importunate, almost greedy, their desire for peace in this world wrongheaded, in view of the treasure awaiting them in another world.