If you needed a thousand dollars to pay your bills, would you get down on your knees and beg someone for help? Would you stand on the street with a tin cup and beg for alms?
Most of us would not demean ourselves that way for money. Money is important. It can buy food, clothing, and shelter. But dignity is also important. Many people would rather miss dinner than ask for a handout. But I don’t know anyone who would put their dignity ahead of their children’s wellbeing.
If your child needed something desperately and couldn’t get it, most of us would demean ourselves willingly to plead their case. If their professor failed them out of spite, and they would miss out on an important opportunity in life, it would not be beneath us to beg.
Our child’s happiness is our happiness. Nothing makes us happier than knowing that our children are happy. If you and your child both loved popcorn and there was only one bag, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice to give it to your child. You would derive much more pleasure from watching him or her eat it than from enjoying it yourself. Your child’s pleasure is your pleasure.
Many say that their wedding date was the happiest day in their lives. But that was before they attended their children’s wedding. Most people say that having children was the greatest thing that ever happened to them. But that was before they watched their children experience the joy of having children.
Just like we don’t thank ourselves when we use our money, our children need not thank us when we give them our money. That is why we have money. It is for our children, not for us. Our pleasures come from our children’s happiness. The Yiddishe Mame melody says it best: “Her joys and her pleasures, she found them in her baby’s smile.”
This gives us insight into a curious Torah passage that we will read this week. Just before Jacob passed away, he summoned Joseph to his bed. Joseph arrived with his two sons in tow. Jacob wanted to bless them, and the Torah puts it like this: “And he blessed Joseph and said . . . may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the children, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they multiply abundantly like fish, in the midst of the land.”
In the Kabbalah, our sages posed a simple question. The passage says that Jacob blessed Joseph, but he never did bless Joseph. He blessed Joseph’s children. Where was Joseph’s blessing?
The answer, as you have surely deduced by now, is that a father’s greatest blessing is the one he receives for his children. It is not that a father sacrifices his blessing for the sake of his children. It is that a father receives greater pleasure from a blessing of his children than from his own blessing. He would much rather see his children succeed than see himself succeed. He derives more from seeing his children prosper than seeing himself prosper. It is not that he is a pauper. He is wealthy with his children’s success. Jacob blessed Joseph much more by blessing His children.
Switching The Brothers
Then the darndest thing happened. Rather than pleased, Joseph was horrified. After Jacob finished his blessing, Joseph informed Jacob that he had placed his right hand on the older son and his left hand on the younger son. Jacob assured Joseph that he knew this and deliberately gave preference to the younger son.
Now, this is surprising, if not disturbing. You will surely recall that Jacob had given preference to his youngest son, Joseph. You will surely remember that this made his brothers jealous, and it ended in catastrophe when they sold him into slavery. It is, therefore, not surprising that Joseph would be particularly sensitive to this. When he saw his father preferring the younger son, he sought to correct it.
But what was Jacob thinking? He was marching down the same road that had ended in disaster. Even when he was notified, he doubled down and insisted that he was right. What was he thinking?
Moreover, even after being told that Ephraim was younger than Menasseh, he went out of his way to prefer Ephraim. After being told that Menasseh was older, Jacob, “blessed them on that day, saying, ‘With you, Israel will bless, saying, ‘May G-d make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh,’ and he placed Ephraim before Manasseh.” The Torah clearly states that Jacob placed the younger one first even after being told that he was younger, and doesn’t condemn him for it.
In English, the word you is both singular and plural. In Hebrew, there are different words for you in the singular and in the plural. When Jacob blessed them and said, “With you, Israel will bless,” he used the word for you in the singular. If he was talking to both brothers, why did he not address them in the plural?
Jacob’s subtle message here was that Joseph’s two sons were united like one. If you have two sons and give one a gold ring and the other a silver ring, you will spark jealousy. But if you have one son and place a gold ring on one finger and a silver ring on the other finger, there can be no jealousy. It is the same son.
The same was true of Ephraim and Manasseh. I know, Jacob said to Joseph, that Manasseh is the older one. And I deliberately placed my right hand on the younger one because he deserves it. But know that your children are so tight that there can be no jealousy between them, Manasseh would respond to my right hand on his brother’s head precisely as he would respond to my right hand on his head. From his perspective, it is all the same good fortune. His brother’s fortune is his fortune.
You and your brothers did not have that kind of relationship. Therefore, it ended tragically. But I want you to know that your sons are kneaded from a different kind of dough, spun from a different kind of cloth, made from a different kind of mold. The kind of mold that every Jewish father would wish for his sons.
There was no greater blessing for Joseph. When we hear that our children are not only successful but also deeply connected, our pleasure is boundless. We feel that we have reached our zenith. Achieved the pinnacle of success. This is the apex. This is the life. This is what life is all about.
May we find that kind of unity so that G-d could take such joy and pleasure from us—His children. And may we remember that when we do well, when we become citadels of virtue, inspiring examples of morality, kindness, and love in our homes and communities, and when we are united, G-d—our Father in Heaven—kvells. He melts in ecstasy as he rejoices in the endless well of our pleasure.