Vayechi Sermon January 10, 2004 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
Talking to our children and our grandchildren sounds simple, but in reality it is not an easy task. We try to communicate our love and we look into their eyes as we try to express our sincere emotions and feelings. But, is there a right and wrong way to communicate with our children? How do we do what is right? According to modern psychology, most of the time, we as parents or grandparents take the wrong approach when communicating with our children. I have heard parents so many times complaining, "Why are my children not following in my footsteps? What did I do wrong? I do not feel that I deserve this type of attitude…."
In this week’s Biblical chapter, Vayechi, our patriot Jacob was about to leave this world. The Torah portion describes the last moments of Jacob’s life. We can try to imagine those moments, as Jacob was surrounded by his twelve sons and two grandsons. Jacob, at the very last instant of his life, decided to share some choice words with his children and grandchildren. He gave a special blessing to each and everyone of them as they stood before him. Just as each of his offspring was unique and different, so were Jacob’s words individualized. Why did Jacob choose to do this? Would it not have been faster for Jacob to give one blessing to all his offspring?
It appears from the text that Jacob wanted to teach the future generation an important lesson: Jacob gave his children advice and guidance, according to the way they conducted their life. Jacob was also very careful not to let his children be affected by his hard life or regrets. Jacob was cautious not to express his personal frustrations or anger towards his future generations--he did not want the negative to affect their future.
Jacob himself went through a lot. He was born in a house full of hatred. He was forced to leave his parents’ house. His father-in-law Laban treated him poorly. He was tricked and married to the oldest daughter, Leah, rather than the one he loved. When he finally married Rachel, she was childless for a long time. Rachel died at a very young age, and he treated their son, Joseph in a special way, holding him close to his heart. But because of the jealousy of his other sons, Jacob lost Joseph for twenty years. Jacob was mourning because he was lead to believe that Joseph was dead. Then, he lost his money, his land was hit by famine, and his people were starving. He was forced to go to Egypt to beg for sustenance for his people. Then the miracle happened-- everything seemed restored as Joseph was found and he enjoyed a high position of influence and power in Egypt.
Jacob had a prophetic gift and felt that all of his history and life-experiences might re-occur. He predicted the exile in Egypt because he wanted to take the opportunity to give his children and grandchildren a message of hope and a message of love. So Jacob looked at each and everyone of his children and he gave them a very special blessing according their talents and traits. Shimon, for example, together with Levi, in their defense of their sister killed the population of the city of Schechem. Therefore, because of their temper and passion, Jacob wanted this energy to be channeled in the right directions.
Jacob blessed Shimon to be the teacher of young children so that they would learn to be disciplined and learn to study properly at an early age. Levi was blessed that he would lead the people who would serve in the temple and collect the tithe; this responsibility requires a certain authority and toughness. Judah represents leadership. Throughout his lifetime, a special talent and trait of leadership was evident, so Jacob blessed him that his offspring would be the leading tribe. Others were blessed in similar ways. Yisaachar and Zebulon were blessed as well. Ysaachar was a student of the Torah, while Zebulon was gifted in business. Jacob’s wisdom blessed them with a task to combine those two gifts: one was go out and share part of his income with those who wanted to dedicate themselves to study the Torah. So everyone was admonished to use their gifts for the common good and for a positive outcome.
Through Jacob’s example, we learn a special way to interact with our children and offspring. These twelve sons were adults, but every single word that he shared with them was very important and purposeful. Jacob knew that and consequently he was extremely cautious when he blessed each one of them, valuing each individual’s uniqueness.
Today’s psychologists often describe the influence that our words have in the subconscious of our children’s’ minds and souls. We should learn from this that we should be very careful when we speak to our children, when we are admonishing, correcting, or disciplining. Once words are spoken, they cannot be taken back. We don’t know how our words will affect our children in the future. Many times, during times of crisis later in life, people will realize that the harsh words spoken by their parents during their childhood had a deep effect on them as adults. We must love our children and communicate with them in love so that our words will build them up and give them hope for a grand future, just like Jacob did so long ago.