Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vayechi 75 - A Father's Blessing to his Sons

Joseph- Yosef visits his sick father Yaakov- Jacob with his 2 sons – Menashe and Ephraim.  Yaakov wanted to bless Yosef's sons. Suddenly the divine spirit – ruach ha'kodesh that was resting upon him departed from him because he saw a spiritual defect and blemish present in Menashe and Ephraim. He saw in a prophetic vision that wicked people would descend from them- Yeravam and Achav from Ephraim and Yehu ben Nimshi from Menashe. So Yaakov asks Joseph – Who are these '? Yosef replies בני הם אשר נתן לי אלוקים בזה, - that they are my sons which God gave to me   -'   ba'zeh ' as they are with all their spiritual defects from a holy union here in Egypt. Yosef's answer helped the divine spirit – ruach ha'kodesh to return to Yaakov who then proceeded to first bless Yosef – Joseph - that God should bless his son's and that because of their actions and who they were, people would associate their names with their righteous ancestors, myself Yaakov and Abraham and Isaac. The greatest blessing a father can receive is to have his sons blessed and achieve greatness. Yaakov then blessed Yosef's sons ' by you shall Israel bless saying ' May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe '.  May people bless their sons in the hope and wish that their sons grow into great men like Ephraim and Menashe. Ephraim and Menashe became symbols of commitment to their heritage and spiritual growth despite living in exile and in a hostile and hedonist    Egyptian culture. They achieved more than their potential by moving up a generation from being grandchildren of Jacob to becoming his sons are thereby the founding fathers of their tribes. In their personal lives they showed brotherly love and no sign of jealously as the older brother – Menashe had no problem with his younger brother Ephraim getting the blessing of the first born child.

. We need to ask the following questions - What was it in Joseph's answer about his sons that made Yaakov suddenly change his mind about blessing Menashe and Ephraim? Nothing changed the fact that they are spiritually blemished and that  wicked  people would come from them. The Torah talks in general terms - Israel =Jews will bless children and not specifically about fathers blessing their sons. So why don't Sages and Rabbis bless children  with the blessing – May God makes you like Ephraim and Menashe. Why is  this blessing only for fathers and  irrespective of their spiritual stature?  When Jacob blesses his grandsons, he says  - by you בך   in the singular, referring to Joseph, Israel shall bless…  The Torah should read – By them or by you in the plural referring to Menashe and Ephraim will Israel bless… What has Yosef- Joseph got to do with this blessing?

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro explains that it was Joseph's   unconditional acceptance of his sons   with all their faults and blemishes and standing by them that made Yaakov change his mind.  Menashe and Ephraim had a father in Yosef that   unconditionally   accepted   them and saw   his children as a gift of responsibility from God. This will guarantee that they will turn out fine. The success of children depends on them being blessed with a father like Yosef.  So the blessing is only suited for fathers. It is the fathers who pray and bless their sons that they will have a father like Yosef that will help them grow into men of the stature of Menashe and Ephraim. Joseph is referred to as the ' stone of Israel - אבן= אב ובן ' having the ability to connect father and son.

 As a father Joseph helped to make his children identify and feel part of his vision and mission of his family to be a ' light unto the nations'. It is a well- known fact that many children of Rabbis serving country and small town districts where there is no or very little formal religious Jewish education do very well when they go to study in schools or yeshivot in bigger cities. Because they identify and are part of their parent's mission and vision, their study, religious observance and social commitment reaches high levels of understanding and performance. When kids share a common mission, there is also no place for envy or jealousy as they see each other as friend and ally in their holy mission.

One of the basic needs all children have is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw-up or fall short.  Most parents believe that they love their kids unconditionally, but what counts is whether kids feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.  Saying to a kid “I love you, but not your behavior” is problematic. The kid wonders: what’s this elusive me you say you love when all I hear is disapproval and criticism. Instead of criticism, we can engage, ' working with the child ' in a non-judgmental way to solve problems in a collaborative way and help them engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and do some Teshuvah – repentance. 

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