Parashat Vayechi 5778: Daddy (and mommy) issues
There is a story about a Rabbi that during services sees one of his community members sad and troubled. During the Kiddush he goes to speak with him. He explains: “Rabbi, I have problems finding a partner, because every time I bring a new girl home, my mother dislikes her, because she doesn’t dress properly, doesn’t know how to cook properly, she doesn’t look good enough, and I don’t know what to do”.
The Rabbi thinks for a moment, as he touches his beard, as you know rabbis do. At the end he says: “You should find a girl like your mother! A girl that looks a little like your mom, that dresses like your mother, that speaks like your mother, even that cooks like your mother”. “Wow Rabbi”, the young man says, “thank you, it’s a fantastic idea”.
A few weeks pass. One day, the Rabbi sees again the young man sad, even more than before. In the Kiddush he approaches him and asks: “Nu? What happened? Did you do what I told you?”. The young man says: “Yes, it was hard, but I found a girl that looks a little like my mother, that dresses like my mother, speaks like my mother, even cooks like my mother”. The Rabbi gets excited and asks: “Nu? So what happened?”. The young man answers: “Now my father doesn’t like her!”.
Dear friends, even if we don’t like to accept it, the opinion of our parents is very important for us. We want to receive their approval, we want them to say that they agree with us, that they support us. We desperately want their blessing, sometimes even when they are not with us anymore. And that’s one of the main subjects in our Parashah: blessings, the blessing of a father and a grandfather to his children.
I want to relate to one of these many blessings, a simple blessing that we still use every Shabbat. “Yesimcha Elokim keEfram vehiMenashe”, “May God make you as Efraim and as Menashe”. This is how we bless our sons, but how do we bless our daughters? “Yesimech Elokim keSara, Rivka, Rachel VeLeah”, “May God make you as Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah”.
Why don’t we bless our sons in the name of our patriarchs as we do with our daughters? Why Efraim and Menashe?
There are some people that say that the reason is because they succeeded in keeping their identity as Israelites even living in the Diaspora, in the middle of the pagan society of Egypt. Others, say something different. They point out that they were the first brothers in the Torah that didn’t show any rivalry or hatred between them. After we read the stories of Cain and Abel, Isaac and Yishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers; it is refreshing not to see any conflict between them. Now that brothers learnt to live together, to respect each other, now the history of the People of Israel can proceed to the next stage.
In order to speak about this transition we have to speak about the one that blesses, Jacob our father. We say goodbye to him in this Parashah. When he started his journey from Bet El to Haran a few parashiot ago it was written: “And Jacob lifted his feet and went to the Land of the people of the East” and now we read “And he flexed his feet in the bed and died”. The quest he started in the first verse took him to three countries, he loved, fought, mourned. He behaved as different people through his life, from a simple man, to the Jacob who deceived his brother and father, up to Israel, the man that struggled with God. He spent most of his time during his last years in mourning, maybe with guilt. He is the example of a man that make mistakes, an imperfect man, a man like us, but his greatness is that he overcame his mistakes. He searched for peace, but never got there, because there is always a new challenge to deal with, but he continued to try. To be a Jew is to be a son of Jacob/Israel and his blessings are ours too.
May we be like him and overcome our challenges, always continuing to grow, knowing that maybe we won’t achieve perfection, but still we must try every day to be better, to move from Jacob to Israel.