Peace Between Father and Son

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayehi, we do not see too much action. To be honest, compared with last week’s portion, this one a seems a bit anticlimactic. The era of the Patriarchs is coming to an end and we are waiting for the narrative to pick up again in Shmot with the story of the Israelites and Moses. But before we roll the credits on the book of Genesis, we deserve a powerful ending to this epic.

This portion starts off, “ Yaakov lived in seventeen years in the land of Egypt…“ (Gen 47:28) The Baal HaTorim quoting the Midrash HaGadol picks up on the number seventeen. This number seventeen clearly sets the time that Yaakov lives in the land of Yosef to the time that the son spent growing up in the house of his father before he was sold. Even before we compare Yaakov and Yosef, it is hard not to relate to the equilibrium in the turning of time. The child who was dependent on the parent physically and emotionally for their first stage of his or her life is often forced to reverse roles with their child for the parents’ final stage of life. There is a certain balance in the living out of the riddle of the sphinx.

But let us move ahead and highlight some of the differences between this father and son. Taking a look at Yaakov’s life we see a person developing in isolation. While, at first we see Yaakov cleaving to the heel of his twin brother, the text quickly shifts and Yaakov is depicted as a contemplative loner sitting in the tent (Gen.25:26-27). He is alone again when he flees home in fear of his brother to live in a foreign land (Gen 28:10-11). Amidst his flight he stops in Luz which later called Bet El (Gen. 28:19) There he has a divine dream of the ladder. Years later we see Yaakov alone again when he is returning home. (Gen. 32:25). Yaakov’s most important moments are when he is by himself. As the Midrash would have us understand his time in the tent was devoted to Torah study. But it is clear in the later two cases that Yaakov’s most powerful educational experiences with God are when he is alone. It is also interesting to note the development in his own education that in Luz the interaction is passive and just a dream where as when he returning home his is physically wrestling with God. This refinement of his character is picked up in the imagery of the movement from the rocks that he gathers to put under his head to the dust in which he and the angels of God roll around in amidst their struggle.

As a student of God Yaakov is truly a lonely man finding company with God. But, how do we see Yaakov as a teacher? Yaakov engineers the same educational environment that he learned about God for his chosen student Yosef. Yaakov sends Yosef to check on the very brothers who scorn him (Gen 37:13). It is no coincidence that they are not there. The classroom is set; the apple is on desk, the board is clean, there is plenty of chalk, there are no distractions in the classroom, and the best teacher in the world is waiting His next student. Yosef comes into his own personal classroom asks where his brothers are and leaves (Gen 37:25) Yosef is gone and so is the educational moment. It will take him his whole life to come to realize God. In contrast, Yosef education happens in the moments of his trying to connect with others. First with his brothers, then in Potifar’s house, then prison, then with Pharoah, and then again with his brothers. It is clear that Yosef derech haLimud , method of learning, is very different then his father’s derech. Yaakov finds God in the extremes moments of radical solitude, while Yosef finds Gcd in social joining.]

Yosef lived his entire adult life away from his father. Not only did he not have the comforts of family, he never had his father validate his method of seeing the world. This all comes to a beautiful conclusion in this week’s parsha when Yaakov says, “ El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and God blessed me. And said to me, ‘I will make you fertile and numerous, making of you a community of peoples…” (Gen 48:3-4). God appeared to Yaakov in the solitude of Luz in the dream and blessed him with the blessing of the entire book of Genesis to be fruitful and multiple, but for the first time the bracha has been expended to “making of you a community of peoples”. If you are open to hear it you hear the reconciliation between the loner and the social learner. Yaakov is not saying that he was wrong, but he is finally able to see that Yosef’s way of seeing the world is also blessed by God and critical to future of the Israelites, and the world. In a book of conflicts between brothers and fathers and sons. We end of the beginning with an expanded blessing. We have a model beyond a nation of individuals, we have a community of those striving to find God.

I hope that our community continues to make room for all types of learning and religious striving. I want to live in a place welcoming and supportive to all.

Now we can roll the critics. Shabbat Shalom.

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