What would we say to your children if we knew it was the last time?
Filmmakers love the drama of the deathbed scene: Christopher Nolan has used them at least twice: there’s a critical scene in Inception and a heartstring-tugging final scene in Interstellar. Chris Miller even had one (a favorite scene in our family: the death of Fiona’s father, the Frog King) in Shrek the Third. In the movies, these moments reveal life-altering truths for the dying person’s family.
Yaakov spent the bulk of this week’s parasha of Vayechi passing on individualized blessings to each of his twelve sons, but the story begins with the blessings he bestows on his two Egyptian grandsons, Efraim and Menashe. The blessing that he gives them, ha-malach ha-go’el oti mikol ra, yevarech et ha-ne’aarim, vi-karei behem shemi ve-shem avotai Avraham ve-Yitzchak, “the angel who saved me from all evil, bless these young men, and recall in them my name and the names of Avraham and Yitzchak…” The commentators offer various explanations of this blessing. Ramban writes that this is a prayer that the names of their forefathers shall forever be recalled through them. Rabbi Ovadia Seforno sees it as a charge: be ready to serve God, and you will thus be qualified to be called the descendants of Avraham and Yitzchak.
I recently paid a shiva call on a friend who was sitting for his father. The avel told me that because his father had been ill for a few weeks, each child and grandchild was able to visit the hospital for an individual farewell message. This was a bittersweet tale, but what an amazing zechut for both parent and children to be able to say goodbye in this way! What would our final messages to our children be?
While the movies play these scenes for pathos or for laughs, in real life, it’s not about the messages we reveal to our kids or grandkids in our final moments; it’s about what we repeatedly pass on to them during the time that Hashem has blessed us to have with them.
Many of us have the custom of repeating the verse of hamalach with our kids every night before they go to sleep. The Talmud in Berachot explains that just as fish are covered by the sea and protected from the ayin ha-ra, the evil eye, so too will our kids be protected (Yaakov’s blessing continues to say that Efraim and Menashe should “multiply like fish,” ve-yidgu la-rov). But we repeat this each night to remind our kids of what we hold dear: that they remain worthy of the legacy of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. We want our children to carry on what we have carried on, what our own parents and grandparents passed on to us. Repetition — consistency is the key.
What are the messages that we want to repeat and make sure they don’t forget? What opportunities do we have to repeat those messages?