Parshat Vayechi: On Parenting and Shema

“Ilan, Ilan, with what shall I bless you? …May it be God’s will that all saplings which they plant from you be like you.” -Taanit 5b

As parents, we often hope that our children will choose to follow the path we have chosen in life. Yet, we also want them to grow and become independent. Yacov’s parenting, in parshat Vayechi, provides a model for how to relate to children who may choose different values than our own. 

The parsha contains two moments when Yacov expresses concern about the path his descendents will take in the future. When Yacov meets Yosef’s sons, Menashe and Efrayim, for the first time he asks, “Mi eleh?” “Whose are these?” Rashi explains – they did not look worthy of a bracha. Rabbi Benny Lau suggests that this was because they looked Egyptian and Yacov wondered, how are these related to me? Yet, Yacov decides to bless them nonetheless. How appropriate that this is the bracha with which we bless our children on Friday night. No matter what – we continue to bless them in the hope that they internalize our values and find their way to commitment to Torah. 

Also, in Bereshit 49, Yacov calls his children to gather at his bedside twice. Rashi explains that the repetition is due to the fact that Yacov wished to reveal the future to them, however the Divine presence departed from him. The midrash elaborates: Yacov feared that his children might have a “machloket,” or cause to reject God. His children reassured him by saying “Shema Yisrael (Yacov’s other name), the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Ya’acov, in his relief, answered ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, “Blessed be the name of God’s glorious kingdom forever and ever.”
The Shema is the greatest statement of our belief in God and yet it is also associated with this dialogue between Ya’acov in his children, an expression of apprehension of what will be in the future. When we recite the Shema we recall this interaction, perhaps with fears of our own. Yet, by saying Shema and “baruch Shem” we strengthen our belief and reinforce our hope for the future. Shabbat Shalom -Karen Miller Jackson

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