Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And The Old Man Never Was The Same Again ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Brown Eyed Women")

As we are on holiday, driving from Toronto to the New York metropolitan area, we always make a series of stops. We stop in Rochester to visit grandparents and a 96 year old great grandfather. We stop in New Jersey in order to visit friends. We go into the New York to visit with a sister her husband and their daughter, back to New Jersey for to visit other friends and finally a back to Rochester and then onto Toronto.  While we have just arrived in New Jersey during a snow storm, we just experienced a rather difficult moment with my 96 year old grandfather who is suffering from dementia. We arrived at the Jewish Home and went to his room. I gently woke him and I identified myself using my name and how I was related to him. Then once he was awake and lucid I brought my wife and three children into his room. He looked at my wife, he looked at me straining to recognize us; trying to figure out we were and how we are connected to him. Then he looked at our children and said “tell me who you are and how you are related to me”.  Each child dutifully stated their name and then told him that “I am your great grandchild”. My wife introduced herself and then I told him who I was and then added that “I have been your grandson for nearly 50 years.” For the next 20 minutes, we made some chit chat with my grandfather and continued re-introducing ourselves to him. No there was no light switch that went on; no clear connection was ever made
This week we read from Parsha VaYechi.  Yaakov Avinu feels that death is imminent. He feels compelled to bless Yosef’s sons. Then he asks Yosef to promise him that he, Yaakov will be buried back in Hevron with his mother, father, grandfather and grandmother. Then Yaakov calls in his son’s and begins blessing each son. He tells them what he had been told by Hashem. He shares with them the impending slavery, the ultimate redemption and the return to their covenantal land. Yaakov passed away. True to his word, Yosef arranged to have his father buried in Hebron. With help from his brothers, Yosef and his brothers brought Yaakov back to Hevron, bury him and return to Egypt. The Parsha concludes with the brothers and Yosef dying but not until we are told that Yosef managed to see his great grandchildren.
Certainly the passing of generations can certainly be construed as a sad, and in this Parsha there is not only the death of Yaakov but also the passing of the next generation, Yosef and his son’s. However there is something quite comforting in the fact that in this final parsha of Breishit, we see the first interaction between grandparents and grandchildren. It is the first time that we read about a great grandfather look out onto his great grandchildren and enjoying the satisfaction that comes with knowing that they have created and left a legacy. So when Yaakov tells Yosef: V’Atah Shnei Vanecha HaNoladim Lecha B’Aretz Mitzrayim Ad Bo’I Eilecha Mitzraymah Li Heim Efrayim U’Menashe K’Reuvein V’Shimon Yeheyu Li – And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you to Egypt, are mine. Efrayim and Menashe like Reuven, and Shimon shall be mine (Gen. 48:5). Clearly Yaakov knows who Yosef’s sons are. Not only that, but Yaakov readily acknowledges that he will now consider these grandchildren as his sons.  Three psukim later we learn VaYar Yisroel et Bnai Yosef Va’Yoemer Mi Eilah- Israel saw Yosef’s sons, and said ‘who are these’?  (Gen. 48-8) So what happened? Yaakov knew who Yosef’s sons were but the same man; three verses later forgot who Yosef’s sons were? Is this the first case of dementia or Alzheimer’s in the Torah? Why does Yaakov know who Yosef’s sons are but the Israel version of Yaakov doesn’t know who Yosef’s sons are? The Midrash explains that when the boys approached their dying grandfather, he wasn’t looking only at them but looking past them. He was looking into the future, past slavery in Egypt, past the return to Eretz Canaan, and to the era of Kings. Israel saw the kings of the future that came from Efrayim and Menashe and the continued deterioration of the covenant that God made with Yaakov.
Yaakov spent his life always clinging, clinging to Esav, clinging to Lavan, clinging to an angel/man during a wrestling match, cling to God, and now in his final moments, Yaakov views thinks that his life will live on in his son’s and his grandsons. Yaakov sees in his grandsons and opportunity for a brief second chance as a father. Israel doesn’t cling and grasp onto things. Israel wrestles with God and was victorious. Israel is decisive, Israel has a singular objective: insure the future of the covenant. With his grandchildren and great children about to begin their descent into slavery and his knowledge that there will be numerous times when later generations will violate the covenant, Israel hesitates to give his blessing. Israel switches his hands; Israel shows favoritism towards the grandsons. However this is not favoritism based on loving one more than the other. This is a favoritism based upon the cold stark truth of which child is best suited for insuring the survival of Israel’s values and ethical code.
When it was time to leave my grandfather, he looked at me and said “you have a beautiful family.” I leaned over to him and said “they are your family”. There was another blank look and then said, “well, if you say so.”  We said good bye and I told him “I say so.” That was probably the closest thing to a blessing that I will ever hear from him again.
Rav Yitz

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