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Parashat Vayeshev

Fathers and Sons

Torah portion Vayeshev already in the second verse suggests the many implications of educating children. The very structure of the sentence creates the feeling of a son following in his father's footsteps.

In the Zohar it is said that the three patriarchs stand for the three pilgrimage festivals.
Pesach (Passover) stands for Avraham (who told his wife, Sarah, to "knead and make cakes" [Genesis 18:6]) Shavuoth (when we hear the shofar) stands for Isaac (as the shofar was made of the horn of the ram sacrificed instead of Isaac in the story of the akedah). Succoth stands for Jacob (who "made booths for his cattle" [Genesis 33:17] ).
The Zohar adds that Shmini Atzeret stands for Joseph, because as Shmini Atzeret is the continuation of Succoth, so Joseph is the natural continuation of Jacob, our patriarch.

Our sages remark on the similarities between Jacob and his son, Joseph. Perhaps we might expect the Torah to say: "These are the generations of Jacob, Reuven", who was the eldest son. But the Torah shows Jacob's imprint on the heart of Joseph, the son Jacob and Rachel.

Joseph is similar to Jacob, not only in things that happened to him, but also in characteristics. Jacob was born circumcised and so was Joseph. Jacob's mother was barren and so was Joseph's. Jacob's mother had difficulty in the sorrow of his conception, and Joseph's mother had difficulty in the hour of giving birth. Jacob's mother gave birth to two, and so did Joseph's. Jacob's brother wished to kill him, and so did Joseph's brothers.

The list is even longer.

Jacob married a woman out of the land of Israel, and so did Joseph. Both became self-important through their dreams. Both went down to Egypt. Both were embalmed and both were later brought for burial in the land of Israel (Bemidbar Rabbah 14:5).

When I read this midrash, I think of myself and my father. I have asked myself many times if my father influenced my way of life as an observant Jew in general and as a Rabbi in particular.

My father is a secular Jew. I have almost no memories of going to the synagogue, nor of kosher food in the house, nor of Sabbath observance. Until a few years ago, I thought that his influence in this respect was non-existent. I learnt from him to be honest, to love books…and I inherited his sense of humor.

But some weeks ago I remembered something that happened when I was in the fourth grade in the Jewish school in Argentina. We were putting on a show for the end of the year and were going to do a Hassidic style dance. We were told to wear black trousers and white shirts and to bring a talit for the costume.
I was the only child in the class that did not bring a talit from home. My father (whom I had never seen wearing a talit) said that a talit is not for dressing up and asked my grandmother to sew something similar for me to wear. I cried and tried to persuade my father that I would be the only child without a real talit, but he did not relent.

Only today, after almost thirty years, do I understand how strongly I was impressed by that tiny distinction between holy and secular, between an improvised make-believe talit and a real talit.

Many people with grown up children turn to me and say, "You know, Rabbi, time has proved that I brought my children up correctly."

There is a wonderful story about an old sailor who stopped smoking when he saw his parrot coughing madly. He at once thought that the coughing was a symptom of pneumonia as a result of the smoke from his pipe.

The sailor took his poor parrot to the vet who examined it thoroughly. At the end he found the parrot in good health. "Don't worry", said the vet to the sailor. "Your parrot's well. He just learned to imitate your coughing".

"These are the generations of Jacob… Joseph".

It is the nature of man. For better or worse, children imitate their parents.

As a famous saying states: "Whoever is concerned with days sows wheat; whoever thinks of years plants trees; whoever thinks of generations raises children".

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