Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Vayachi (Genesis 46;28-50:26)Passing the Baton

Jacob is on his deathbed and is ready to give his final blessings to his children and grandchildren. When Joseph brings his two sons (i.e. Jacob’s grandsons) for a blessing, Jacob makes the following cryptic remark.And now, your two sons who were born to you in the land of Egypt, until I came to you, to the land of Egypt, they are mine. Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine like Reuben and Simeon. But if you have any children after them, they will be yours… (Gen. 48:5,6)What does “they are mine” mean; does he own them? Rashi explains “they are mine” means that “they are counted with the rest of my sons, to take a share in the land, each one exactly as each of my other sons.” Joseph’s two sons would inherit as sons, not grandsons. They are the only grandchildren who had this unique upgrade in status.Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) finds “they are mine” difficult to understand. Why should the grandchildren born before he came to Egypt be considered his? They were raised by their father and mother without the benefit of Jacob, their grandfather. Why does Jacob say they are mine but any children born after them, i.e. any grandchildren born after Jacob was residing in Egypt, would “belong” to Joseph (But if you have any children after them, they will be yours…). It seems illogical to say that Jacob is more connected to the children (his grandchildren) born and raised before he ever met them than those who were born and raised in close proximity.The Torah is teaching a crucial lesson here. A parent or teacher must instill values to their children or students in such a meaningful way that even if they are separated, the education is still carried out; the child or student understands that (s)he cannot abandon the teachings and values merely because the parents or teachers are no longer in their vicinity. Real parenting means that you are giving over so strong a message that you can be assured the child or student will not veer from the core values with which (s)he was raised.Joseph was able to raise his two sons in Egypt, away from the family and its security. The values and life lessons had been so ingrained in him that he had the knowledge and the tools to be able to pass it on to his children. When Jacob says that his grandchildren belong to him, even though he had no role in raising or educating them, he meant to say that because they had remained true to the family’s core values, the one’s taught and exemplified by Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachael, and Leah, the far reaching effect of Jacob’s education was now apparent. He had inspired Joseph to the point that he was able to inspire his own two sons.What about the children born to Joseph after Jacob and the family were already in Egypt (“But if you have any children after them, they will be yours”)? Why don’t these children have the same status as their older brothers? When the entire family is already present, when there is a supportive close knit family who espouse the same morals and values, it is no longer recognizable that their firm character is as a result of the teaching of Jacob, now they become the people they are as a result of the robust family they are now a part of.When people become parents, they should realize the magnitude of the task. It’s easy to get distracted by the minutiae of changing diapers, car pool, and after school activities but the main task is how will your child behave and interact with others when (s)he has left the home. Although there are many messages we need to transmit to our children, some parents forget give their children a strong Jewish identity. Just having a cultural affiliation won’t be effective in ensuring that the next generation will identify as Jews. The Jewish immigrants who came to this country in the first part of the 20th century bore the wounds of discrimination and persecution from the Eastern European countries from which they emigrated. With the best intentions they strove to give their children everything they never had-the ability to attend public school, go to college, enter to professions closed to them in the old country-but in their zeal to give these gifts to their children, they often neglected to give their children what they did have-a Jewish identity, something that was second nature to them. Other national and ethnic groups proudly give preference to their country of origin; there are African Americans, Italian Americans, and Asian Americans, but we are called American Jews, not Jewish Americans. Well meaning parents sometimes forget that we Jews have a message and are meant to be a light to the rest of the world. The way we’ve done that is to follow the well-trodden path that originated with Abraham and Sara, and was emulated by those who followed. If this has little meaning to parents today, it’s not their fault; they were never exposed to the richness of the Jewish experience or it’s unique methodology to help a person achieve maximum pleasure-that’s right pleasure-in their world. Even though the parents might not have been exposed to it, it behooves them to look into their past, which is, in the words of John Adams, the history of”the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews.”Jacob obviously spent a great deal of time and effort to make sure Joseph would be a loyal bearer of the ideas and behaviors that would ultimately transform a large sector of humanity. When he saw that his grandchildren’s father had successfully raised them (even) in an environment hostile to the values of his own home, he was comforted. Jacob realized that no matter where one is, no matter how hard the struggle, it’s possible to remain loyal to everything Jews stand for. When he saw his grandchildren, he correctly observed that, indeed, the children are mine. Fortunate is the grandparent who can say the same. Good Shabbos (Source: Drash Moshe p. 34; Rashi from Bava Basra 122b-123a)
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center