Jeffrey Kobrin
Looking to the Parasha to Inspire Our Parenting

Back on the inside

I used to keep count of my visits to Israel, but after a while, thank God, I lost count. Every trip to Israel, though, still has its own personality, whether one comes for two days or for two years. I write this from Jerusalem, on a trip which – like all the rest – feels very different than any other.

My family and I have had unforgettable experiences this week. We have been reminded of the centrality of Israel in our system of values and beliefs, not merely as a concept, but as a lived, physical reality. We spent a morning with a celebrity chef cooking 150 meals for two units of IDF soldiers; we donated NSHA gloves to an appreciative tank unit serving in the south; we answered the birkot ha-gomel of soldiers who had returned home for a brief Shabbat respite; and we had a deeply intense tour of Har Herzl with a tour guide whose son was killed on October 7.

The constant refrain from friends here is a series of questions: who is “in,” where they are deployed, and what they are doing. Many parents don’t seem to know (or want to know) the answer to that last question, either because they haven’t asked or their kids haven’t told them. They are heroically balancing their own mental health with their constant parental worry.

My friend Rabbi David Debow taught me this week that there is a difference between the young Yosef of Vayeshev and the experienced Yosef of this week’s Torah reading of Vayechi.  The younger version placed himself outside the circle of his brothers and parents. In his dreams, Yosef gave direction to the rest of his family; their sheaves of wheat had to meet with his approval. (If they fell short, explains Rabbi Debow, Yosef would tell them to add more wheat, which is what his name, yosef, “add,” literally means.) But when it came time for his father Yaakov to bless all his sons in this week’s portion, Yaakov was careful to include Yosef as one among equals: they were all his sons, and each one received the blessing that suited him. Yosef was one of them; he was no longer on the outside looking in. He was now part of the circle.

This war has yet to receive an official name.  The stones that we saw on Har Herzl of soldiers we knew personally have blank spaces until the Israeli government decides on an official title of the current battles. But it has reminded me and my family that we are part of the nation too, that we are not on the outside observing or – even worse – giving directions.

Every one that I’ve seen this week feels very much a part of our people, our country, and our history. They are very much on the inside, part of the circle.

May we all hear good news; may we all continue to help in the important ways that we have been helping; and may we all feel that vital feeling of being on the inside.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kobrin is the Rosh HaYeshiva/Head of School at the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, New York. He has bachelors and masters degrees in English literature from Columbia University, semikha from RIETS at Yeshiva University, and a PhD in English education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. He lives in Riverdale, New York, with his wife, Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, and their daughters.
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