Although my children are still young I often wonder what kind of men they will grow to become. Karen and I do our best to instill the values we hope our children are absorbing that will inform and guide them today and in the future.
Parashat Va’y’chi, the last portion in the Book of Genesis finds our patriarch Jacob on his death bed. He summons all of his children to his bedside to offer them final blessings, words of wisdom and warning. He wants to be sure that he will leave a legacy to his children.
Jacob is not so sure what will happen. They are living in Egypt in the midst of a very different yet prevailing culture. Jacob wonders if they will maintain their heritage after their father dies. He isn’t certain, and that worries him.
A lovely midrash connects the watchwords of our faith, the words of Shema Yisrael, to this moment when Jacob is close to death, and uncertain about his legacy.
Our sages teach that as Jacob spoke to his children and expressed concern for their future, his sons approached him and said these words: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.” We translate this declaration as “Hear o Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” However midrash suggests a different way to read it.
Jacob is also known as Israel. The word “Shema” not only means “hear” but also “listen.” Jacob’s sons therefore say the following, “Listen up, Israel (dad); Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.” Another way to say this is: “Don’t worry Dad. We understand. The God you pray to is our God too. And it’s just that God (no other gods).” His sons are telling their father, on his deathbed, that indeed they will carry on the faith and tradition that he has instilled in them.
I cannot predict what the Jewish future holds for my children. I hope and pray that they will always remain connected to their tradition and heritage; I hope that they will always be guided by Jewish values and will embrace the rituals that we continue to teach them. I trust they will be kind, respectful, honest, sweet, and above all mentches. I hope that we are setting the foundation now for a bright Jewish future.
Jacob established a foundation for his children. He was far from perfect, however, he did enough to inspire them to day, Shema Yisrael-Listen up dad; Adonai Eloheinu-Adonai is our God; Adonai Echad-and God alone. To which Jacob responded, “Baruch Shem Kavod Malchuto L’olam Va’ed-Blessed is our majestic God forever.” Jacob then died in peace.
May we establish strong foundations for our children and pray that they will inherit the values we impress upon them today.