On Faith and Family: Following Yaakov’s Lead
Reflecting on the 1st anniversary of my son’s Bar Mitzvah, I’m overcome with awe by the enormity of his truly remarkable milestone. As I shared with him, remembering the roots our Forefathers planted for us will secure our future.
Is this the little boy I carried? Is this the little boy I see? I don’t remember growing older. When did he?
Sunrise, Sunset Sunrise, Sunset swiftly flow the days. Seedlings turn overnight to sunflow’rs, Blossoming even as we gaze.
What words of wisdom can I give him? How can I help to ease his way? Now he must learn to be a leader
Day by day …
The truth is, you’ve already shown your prowess and leadership- on the field and more. Your teammates and maybe even your opponents look up to you.
Jewishly, you’ve shown a remarkable intuitive way of not accepting things as they are, just because that’s how it’s done. Judaism for you has issues that seemingly conflict. You’ve clearly given Judaism much thought and struggled with important matters, to find sense in being a Jew. You challenge yourself and others, myself included. Just know, your questions are welcomed. It means you’re trying to understand. This is a sign of growth and that you’re already on your way to becoming a very capable leader!
So keep asking questions, like:
Why would a G-d create a people just to make them His servants?
If G-d is a G-d of Mercy, why did He tell us to kill Amalek? How is being Jewish a good thing if G-d tells us to do this?
Why would G-d tell the רשע son that if he had been in Egypt, G-d would not have redeemed him? How could that be?
Why believe in G-d?
What is faith anyway? I mean, blind faith is just following something we don’t see… what’s the point of that?
So, why have faith at all, you want to know?
וַיִּקְרְב֣וּ יְמֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֘ לָמוּת֒ The Days of Yisrael were coming close to his death. Yaakov Avinu called Yosef to his side when he realized he would be dying soon. What was the one thing Yaakov asked of Yosef his precious son?
Listen to his words: וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ “If I have found favor in your eyes
וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ עִמָּדִי֙ חֶ֣סֶד וֶֽאֱמֶ֔ת אַל־נָ֥א תִקְבְּרֵ֖נִי בְּמִצְרָֽיִם
… deal with me with lovingkindness and truth; do not bury me now in Egypt.
:וְשָֽׁכַבְתִּי֙ עִם־אֲבֹתַ֔י I will lie with my forefathers, and you shall carry me out of Egypt, and you shall bury me in their grave.” We learn so much from this brief exchange.
Yaakov was a man of great personal and religious stature, yet he still spoke as a loving father with humility to his beloved son Yosef: “If I have found favor in your eyes…” He emphasized to him that the ultimate way of showing honor was with חֶ֣סֶד וֶֽאֱמֶ֔ת! This is a way of showing true devotion and love which is unmatched, because the kindness can never be repaid by Yaakov. He was teaching Yosef how to treat others, with kindness, dignity, and integrity. Yaakov also conveyed his convictions directly, showing he wouldn’t compromise his faith. That’s how to be a leader.
Even though Yosef was recognized as 2nd in command in all of Egypt, Yaakov unhesitatingly declared that he would not be buried there. Imagine that!
And Yosef replied , אָֽנֹכִ֖י אֶעְשֶׂ֥ה כִדְבָרֶֽךָ I will do according to your words.
What is the deal with this demand of Yaakov to be buried in Mearas haMachpelah where Avraham and Yitzchak, were buried too? Why? Why was that so important to Yaakov? He wanted to go HOME! He yearned to go back to the land of his fathers! Yaakov wanted Yosef to understand how important this was to him, and instill in Yosef the same devotion to family and commitment to the Holy Land which he had.
Some time after this episode, we learn someone came to Yosef to tell him that Yaakov was in fact dying. What did Yosef do? He brought his sons Menashe and Ephraim with him to be with Yaakov. וַיִּתְחַזֵּק֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל Yaakov strengthened and sat up in honor of Yosef, and for what was to come next.
He then began to recount his life, reviewing history from the time G-d came to him and told him he would become a mighty nation and inherit Canaan as אֲחֻזַּ֥ת עוֹלָֽם, until this very day in his life. Yaakov told Yosef that Menashe and Ephraim were dear to him as if they were his own. Therefore, he would be counting them among his own children for the inheritance. He then blessed Yosef through blessing his children. I’m sure you’re familiar with this from Shema every night. (HaMalach -Dveykus)
הַמַּלְאָךְ֩ הַגֹּאֵ֨ל אֹתִ֜י מִכָּל־רָ֗ע יְבָרֵךְ֘ אֶת־הַנְּעָרִים֒ וְיִקָּרֵ֤א בָהֶם֙ שְׁמִ֔י וְשֵׁ֥ם אֲבֹתַ֖י אַבְרָהָ֣ם וְיִצְחָ֑ק וְיִדְגּ֥וּ לָרֹ֖ב בְּקֶ֥רֶב הָאָֽרֶץ
“Lord who sustained me from harm, bless the youths … may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers, Avraham and Yitzchak.”
In that moment Yaakov conveyed to Yosef and his sons the source and purpose of faith: Tradition!
We learn from our parents, we grow and develop, we look to them for guidance. Yaakov learned from his father and grandfather, he never lost faith. He had gone through so much, he could have given up, but he still had faith. He recognized that HaShem had shielded him from harm his whole life. You know, Ephraim and Menashe are held in esteem as brothers who appreciated each other and didn’t argue over who was better or more deserving of greater Bracha. They understood they complemented one another. This is what Yaakov wanted to emphasize was the heart of Judaism. To be a nation, they must lead by example, get along with one another, work together for the greater good. These sons were not born in Canaan but remained pure in belief in G-d nonetheless. Yaakov recognized this, took them in as his own.
He deliberately raised them up to be shining examples to Jews when facing גלות exile, how to remain Jewish in a world devoid of G-d and belief.
So, when he gave his Bracha to Menashe and Ephraim, he reversed the order of their names. He instructed Yosef that the Bracha for all Israel for future generations to give to their children would be: יְשִֽׂמְךָ֣ אלקים כְּאֶפְרַ֖יִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁ֑ה
This was the beginning of their nationhood, The Jewish People as we know it.
In Parshas VaYechi, we witness a father’s profound wisdom when it came time to bestow Brachos for all his children! Yaakov Avinu blessed each of them according to his character. He recognized their differences, their unique abilities and strengths. In this way, he again showed Yosef what is important in family. Don’t expect each child to be the same, let them grow to be their own person, and encourage their talents. Guide them to use their natures wisely and develop their leadership skills according to their ways.
After blessing his sons, Yaakov realized he had achieved his mission in life, establishing the Jewish people. His deep faith that G-d would always protect his children gave him peace, and the understanding that his life was complete.
We were blessed to go back HOME when we visited Eretz Yisroel. Our family brought us to Mearas haMachpelah – the very place we read about in this week’s Parsha.
You ask about faith
We actually stood at the Kever of Yaakov! While standing there, hundreds of people of all different backgrounds were pouring in to the Machpelah, in faith. It was like going to the Kotel. The feeling is indescribable. People were pouring in from everywhere, from this side and that side. A group next to us began singing songs –of hope, joy and pride in being Jewish! They reached out from the circle and next thing you know, you were dancing right there, by the kever of Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu. You were there! WE were all together, one big Jewish family, with our Avos. Yaakov Avinu accomplished his mission well. Generations later you were following in his footsteps.
Faith is personal and a challenge. Things happen in life that we don’t understand. We have doubts, we question why things are the way they are. There is good, there is pain, ups and downs, sometimes things are mixed up. Faith means we’re willing to believe in something we can’t necessarily understand. Somehow it’ll all be ok. We have to trust things will work out. It is inexplicable. It’s hard to accept that we don’t have control over how things will be. We pray things will be good in life. We do have choices, and we hope we’re making good decisions so we’ll have a good life.
Sometimes the best way to understand faith is to be part of something bigger than yourself!
Dancing with people you don’t know, who don’t know you, but they want you to be with them to share simcha and tradition with you, that’s community! Look around you. Our community is here with our family, we’re together in faith. You’re never alone. Have faith in yourself as we do, that’s really important too. Faith is powerful!
You my son are nothing short of astounding. Every day you show me you’re growing, with your observations, questions, achievements, and insights. You’re bright and funny. You make me laugh. You have a clever way with words.
I may not have the answers to your questions, but I want you to keep asking. As your Mom I can’t wait to see how you brighten the world by being yourself, challenging everyone to not be satisfied, and continuing to ask the tough questions. Have faith in yourself and your unique abilities. I know I do. You’re on your way to being a true leader .
I must say your Uncle Danny, a’h, would have been very proud of you today. I wish you would have had the chance to know him. I’ll never forget him holding you dearly as a baby and singing you every song he knew from the depths of his neshama, not wanting to let go of you. He knew that unfortunately he wouldn’t be here to share in this milestone. Maybe, maybe, those songs he sang you when you were so small were the very ones we heard at the Machpelah. After all, he was Yaakov Chanan Dov.
Sunrise, sunset Sunrise, sunset Swiftly fly the years
One season following another Laden with happiness and tears.
חזק חזק ונתחזק