Parenting from the Parsha- Parshat Vayigash- “Learning Torah with Our Children”

This weeks parsha, Parshat Vayigash, once again contains much that can be discussed regarding parenting-but I would like to focus on one message emerging from the parsha that I believe to be of particular importance.

After Yosef reveals himself to his brothers and dramatically reunites with them, he sends them back to Canaan with an abundance of food, animals, and provisions- and a request that Yaacov and the family relocate to Egypt so that Yosef can look after them. The Torah describes the brothers’ hurried return to Canaan, their attempts to inform their father that Yosef was alive, and Yaacov’s initial refusal to believe them out of shock. Once the brothers relay Yosef’s own words and once Yaacov sees the wagons of provisions that Yosef had sent, he finally believes, and celebrates, the wonderful news.

Many of the meforshim wonder what it was exactly that convinced Yaacov that Yosef was finally alive, despite his initial disbelief. Rashi quotes the well-known Midrash that Yaacov was ultimately convinced by a special sign that Yosef had sent to his father- by sending specifically wagons (עגלות), Yosef was signaling to Yaacov about the last topic that they two of them had learned together, namely the topic of ,עגלה ערופה (a complex case where someone is found dead outside in the wilderness, and the Torah demands that the heads of the closest city demonstrate a level of responsibility for the death by participating in a ritual involving killing an ox near the river.)

Many of us have heard this Midrash before and appreciated the hint to it in the text of the Torah I believe, however, that this Midrash raises an important question for our consideration. We know that prior to the sale of Yosef, Yaacov and Yosef enjoyed a very special and unique relationship, as the Torah describes in the beginning of Parshat Vayeishev. Presumably, there were many aspects of this relationship that Yosef could have used as a hint to Yaacov of his existence- why did he specifically reference their Torah learning? Why not refer to another symbol of their bond – perhaps the כתונת

פסים, the special coat that Yaacov had gifted to Yosef and that was probably the most poignant symbol of their deep connection? Or perhaps a symbol associated with his mother Rachel, who served as the foundation for their special relationship. Memories of his beloved wife would surely have aroused Yaacov’ emotions. Why does Yosef davka reference their shared Torah learning?

Perhaps we can suggest that the Midrash is highlighting an important point regarding Yosef’s own perception of his relationship with his father. Out of all the various aspects of their exceptional relationship, what Yosef valued more than anything else was the opportunity he had to learn Torah with his father. More than the special coat, more than any other gifts or privileges that Yaacov had given to Yosef as a result of his unique love for him-Yosef cherished most those moments of Torah learning together with his father, as his father passed down to him the Mesorah of the Jewish tradition. While we don’t know the specifics of all that they learned, as it was all before the Torah was given- what is clear is that the Torah learning they did together had a profound effect on Yosef, and shaped the way he viewed his relationship with his father. When deciding what medium to use as proof to Yaacov of his existence, therefore, he referenced the aspect of their relationship that affected him most profoundly- their shared limmud Torah.

Simply put, we as parents must make time to learn Torah with our kids…

Many years ago, when I was in the Gruss Kollel, I was privileged to have a private meeting with Rav Lichtenstein zt”l. As my wife was pregnant with our first child, one of the topics I raised with him centered on chinuch and the raising of children. Over the course of the ensuing conversation, there is one line that always stuck with me- he said to me, “you have to make sure to learn with your children, and you have to make sure to play basketball with them as well”. (I later found this same quote attributed to Rav Lichtenstein in a later sicha he gave regarding raising children.) There are a few great lessons that I learned from this quote (some of which I hope to discuss at another time), but first and foremost his words imparted to me the importance of making time to learn with my children- that this must be viewed as one of the basic responsibilities of a parenthood.

The Rambam, in his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, famously opens his Laws of Talmud Torah with a discussion of a father’s obligation to teach his son Torah, even before he discusses the general obligation that a person has to learn Torah himself. This seems to indicate that for the Rambam, learning Torah with one’s child is even more fundamental than a person’s own personal Torah study. And perhaps the Rambam is even maintaining that a major part of a person’s own Torah learning is the studying that he does together with his children- as he passes on the mesorah of Judaism to the next generation.

In an essay entitled “On Raising Children”, Rav Lichtenstein stresses the importance of learning with one’s children. He quotes Rav Soloveitchik, who once said that when one gets to Olam Haba, he is going to be asked “Based on what do you deserve entry to Olam Haba?” The Rav added that, personally, he would mention three things, one of which was that he learned with his children.

Learning Torah with one’s children is not simply an obligation- it is a privilege in so many ways. For years, I have been fortunate every Shabbat morning to spend time learning with each of my children, and in many ways, it is the highlight of my week. First and foremost, it is special time set aside on a weekly basis when I can give my full attention to each child, which in and of itself is valuable, irrespective of the content. In addition, from a practical perspective, it has encouraged me to learn many topics and subjects that I might not have focused on, that I now have been privileged to learn. Even topics that I have studied before are further enhanced in my eyes, as each child, at each age, brings a unique and fresh perspective to the subject. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our learning together gives me the chance to share my excitement and enthusiasm for Talmud Torah to my children. Having the opportunity to encounter the Dvar Hashem together, and to experience the excitement that shared encounter creates, is an opportunity that I cherish (and I hope that my children do as well).

Of course, for each of us, learning with our kids can look different and take different forms. For those who are able to make time on a regular basis to learn with each child, so much the better. But even for those of us for whom such learning is unrealistic or challenging, simply taking advantage of a Shabbat table, or any other setting, to discuss the parsha or other topics of Judaism, can be an invaluable experience. We learn from this week’s parsha that of all the various aspects of his special relationship with Yaacov, what Yosef cherished most was the Torah learning that he had shared with his father. This lesson should encourage us towards such shared learning with our children, as well.

I will conclude with a beautiful quote from the same sicha from Rav Lichtenstein, reflecting on the time one must set aside to learn with ones kids- “One pays a price for this attitude of child-raising. I am not telling you that were it not for my children that I would be a “gaon olam”, but you pay a price. However, that is a price that you should be very well ready and willing to pay, and thank G-d every morning for the ability to pay it. It is a source of joy beyond words.”

Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbat-  Shabbat Shalom!!

About the Author
Rav Yossi Goldin is the Director of Young Israel in Israel, runs the Shuls Department at World Mizrachi, and is the Israel Immersion Program Coordinator and Placement Advisor at YU/RIETS Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at
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