06 January 2009

Waiting for a Call

A friend of mine is, Gd Willing, any minute going to call and ask me to come and stay with her son (who just turned two) so she and her husband can go to the hospital. I'm ready. I have a car seat in my car. I have my phone charged up. I'm waiting.

I could be waiting awhile. She's not actually due until January 16th, but no one (doctors included) thinks it'll be that long. Well, except for me. People are busy making guesses about dates and gender and all sorts of things. I've been told I'm not much fun. I don't like playing games where babies are concerned. I just want everyone to make it back home healthy. It's not that I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, it's that I really don't care. I've had a few friends now have really difficult deliveries and I don't care when, or what . . . just everyone safe and healthy.

While I am waiting, I am going to keep studying Torah. It's my favorite thing to do on my day off . . . and again the disclaimer, this is no article . . .just musings, thinkings, and learning. I'd love to know what other people see, learn, and what questions are raised. . .

Through my eyes, the most apparent meaning of most of the Torah comes through as a parenting lesson. I have been wanting children since I was sixteen (at least, that's when I actively started thinking about it), so my worldview is very much shaped by my focus on children - and although I've been a teacher (yes, I've seen Sanhedrin 19b), and a foster parent, a nanny, a god parent, and am the guardian of a few of my friends children I still am not actually a parent. I know better than most that it's different.

I have decided to spend a little more time writing about vayechi. My study partner and I spent another two hours with the text this morning. (have I explained that she is Orthodox and we study on the phone?) This morning, thankfully, I am not distracted.

So, in Verse 29 we read, The days of Yisrael's death drew near, and he called for his son Yoseif, and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, please, place your hand under my thigh; that you will deal kindly and truthfully with me. Please, do not bury me in Egypt. Verse 30: [But rather] let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their grave." He [Yoseif said], "I will do as you say." Verse 31: He [Yaakov] said, "Swear to me," and he swore to him. Yisrael prostrated himself at the head of the bed.

My question here is, why didn’t Jacob just ask Joseph – why make him take an oath?

Here is some of what I found: Rabbi Noson Weiz wrote in The Body and the Self

"The commentators explain that Jacob made this request to Joseph because he was the only one among his children who had the power necessary to carry it out. He foresaw that the Egyptians would resist allowing him to be buried elsewhere, and it would need the offices of a very powerful person like Joseph to ensure compliance with Jacob's desire to be buried in Israel in the Cave of the Machpelah. This is also the reason Jacob made Joseph take an oath to comply with his wish. It is not that he didn't trust him. He wanted to provide Joseph with a powerful argument with which to confront Pharaoh. He could sincerely tell Pharaoh that he was bound by his sacred oath to carry out Jacob's final request. In the face of the oath Pharaoh could not withhold permission. Indeed we find that Pharaoh specifically refers to the oath:
And Pharaoh said, "Go up and bury your father as he made you swear to do." (Genesis 50:6)"


It is a simple enough question, and I did not have to dig very far for an answer that satisfied me. Still, it got me thinking. I work with teens. How often (often!) have I suggested to them that if they don't want to go to a party where parents aren't present, or where there will be drinking or drugs or something else going on they don't want to be part of, but they feel they cannot say that to their friends - even if they don't have time to consult with their parents before giving an answer they can justifiably respond that their parents do not allow them to go. They can say they have promised their parents that they will not go to a party of that desciption. One student told me her parents would encourage her to go to a party with drinking (in high school) because they believe it is an important part of social development, but she still did not want to go. I told her instead of saying her parents wouldn't let her go, she could say that I would find out and she would be in "so much trouble" with me. These other kids from her public school have no idea who I am or why she cares what I think, but if she needed my "parental" back up she had it.

There is a big difference, of course, because Jacob did actually make Joseph make an oath. I am not wondering what the rules are about truthfullness in the above situation for my teens (who are my students) or for the children we parent. If teens need "back up" and don't have it in the moment, is it wrong or right for them to say that their parents said something they may not have actually said? (such as, you may not go to a party where there is alcohol and drugs.)

Pharaoh is persuaded not by Joseph "knowing" it is what Jacob wanted, but by the fact that Joseph took an actual oath.

Given all of the pressure our teens live with and how often they are faced with choices about which their parent(s) have never weighed in - this parsha seems instructional. Maybe Jacob knew Pharaoh would likely put up a fight if Joseph's commitment was anything less than an oath, so he planned ahead for a time when he would not be there to help Joseph. Perhaps as parent(s) (or guardians, god parents, foster parents, etc) we should do the same. Joseph didn't have to just have a vague knowledge of what his father wanted him to do, Jacob told him straight out.

Jacob had personal experience with unclear direction as well - after all, he watched his brother Esau try to please his parents over and over never really knowing what they wanted from him while for Jacob it was always made clear.

Of course, I am also an adult child - as was Joseph - and whiel I know what my mother wants Gd Forbid, I don't know if it's in writing. I am reminded, I should check on that.

The other place I was struck was another reference I've never noticed before about Asnath.

Ch. 48 Verse 1: After these events, someone said to Yoseif, "Behold your father is ill." He took his two sons with him, Menasheh and Ephraim.

My question is: who is the 'vayomer' referring to? – who said it? Rashi tells us there are those to say that Ephraim was often in Jacob’s presence, so when Jacob took ill, Ephraim went to Egypt to tell Joseph. He was with his grandfather learning Torah all the time, and therefore he noticed as his granfather became ill. We are also told the grammar is indicative of deeper meaning. If something is news you never knew before – it would be “and he spoke” - vayagid -instead of vayomer – "and he said". Why? Because apparently vayagid is the form used when we are startled by something or learning it for the first time. If Jacob was well the whole time and suddenly took ill – then we’d expect vayagid.

But I seem to recall somewhere the Talmud tells us Jacob was the first one in the world to become sick before he died and before then there was no weakness before death. Whoever this messenger was had been by Jacob all the time and saw him becoming ill because he says vayomer, and not vayagid.

About why Ephraim was the one who knew Joacob, Rabbi Shraga Simmons writes: "The commentaries explain that the order is based on how these two brothers spent the majority of their time. Ephraim spent his days learning Torah with his grandfather, Jacob. Menashe, meanwhile, served as executive assistant to his father Joseph, the prime minister of Egypt."

My question: Still, why was it covered up from our learning it?
Could it be hidden because later we’ll find out that Ephraim’s descendents are Jerobaum and also Joshua and Jerobaum is bad news?

Verse 2: It was told to Yaakov, saying, "Behold, your son, Yoseif, has come to you." Yisrael gathered his strength and sat up in bed.

My question again: Who told? Rashi says once again, the speaker is Ephraim. (although there are opinions that disagree because then Ephraim should have said, "my father" and not "Yoseif).

Even more perplexing is Jacob's question:

Verse 8: Yisrael saw Yoseif's sons, and he said, "Who are these?"
Verse 9: Yoseif said to his father, "These are my sons, whom El-him has given me in this [place]." He [Yaakov] said, "Please take them to me, and I will bless them."

My question: How is it that Yacov doesn’t recognize the grandchildren?

Rashi explains it was not a matter of him not recognizing them. Yacob was already familiar with Yoseif’s sons. By asking, he couldn’t have been asking who they actually were. What he was asking was from what marriage these children came. According to something my study partner mentioned last week (I don't remember the citation) Joseph also took out the klaf from Yakov that had been given to Asnath to prove that she was of the house of Jacob. According to Rashi, after coming to Egyot, Jacob had not met the mother of these children. When he said, these are the children Hashem gave me “in this place” – it was so Jacob would know who these children are and who their mother is. The commentary continues to explain that Joseph showed Jacob the document by which he married his wife. Jacob sees the future and knows that eventually Jerobaum is going to come from this child – and Jacob asks, is this because of a problem with this marriage? Yoseif says no. And then – as soon as Joseph answers his father, right away, Jacob says bring them to me and I will bless them.

My question: How is it that Jacob's concerns are all alleviated by this brief exchange?

Verse 10: Yisrael's eyes were heavy with age, and he could not see. He [Yoseif] brought them near to him, and he kissed them and hugged them. Verse 11: Yisrael said to Yoseif, "I have never thought to see your face, and behold El-him has even allowed me to see your offspring."

It seems according to toe Chofetz Chaim, this hugging and kissing had a complete connection – and it was a specific type of hugging and kissing. In Hebrew – it is TO them, toward them, and not just kissed them.

Here are my study notes:

According to the Kli Yakar – Jacob knew about what was going to happen in the future, and therefore we wonder how he was able to whole heartedly give the blessing. He just wanted to make sure the bad stuff in the future wouldn’t happen because of the marriage. Once he ascertained that, he said, “bring them onto me” and he said you could learn from me – from my self – why? Because my father Isaac was blessed for my sake. Bring them here upon me – you can learn from me – that HaShem didn’t withhold blessings from Isaac for Jacob’s sake – even though Esau would also be coming from Isaac. Let them be just like me – the same way that Hashem blessed Isaac for generations to come – for Jacob, even though Esau would come, in the very same way, we’re going to work with the present time, and I am giving a blessing for the time that is now – because right now they are all righteous, and I’m not going to have any feelings about the future. And he blessed them that day, according to how they spiritually were that day. Achshav tzadikim - NOW they are righteous.

Again, I have my students in mind. It is hard sometimes to remember that I should encounter them each as they are when they are with me. They have made mistakes and wrong choices in the past, and they certainly will again in the future, but my focus it seems should be on who they are and how they are achshav . . . in this moment. (It's not our task to complete the work . . . kind of . . . maybe . . . ) At the same time, if I see one headed down a really troublesome path, it seems unlikely that I'm supposed to just let them go down it. If Jacob's concern was Jereboam, well, he wasn't even born yet (not for a long time) . . .and a lot could happen between this moment with Ephraim and that moment with the split in the kingdom.

And, of course, all of this brings me back to my central question:

Where is my b'shert and where are my children?
Who are mine to bless, and who will (Gd Willing when I'm well past 120) bury me . . . who will take care of my bones, and who will say kaddish for me?

I heard this week about a shiva at which there were many people, many children and grandchildren, but the only person who could read the Hebrew (and no one bothered to read the transliteration) of the kaddish was the person leading. There were more than 10 Jews in the room, they had a minyan, but the man leading (who was not a relative) was the only one saying the kaddish. Just hearing about this situation made me sad.

My heart aches for Israel right now - and, truly, always. And yet I don't know how I feel about the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel, and I don't know what I think about my responsibility to live there. I don't feel compelled to ask that my bones be brought there. But I have Jewish bones, and a Jewish soul, and both want Jewish children . . .

and none of that is an answer . . .

it's really all part of a very, very big question . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment