On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Torah Thought: Parsha Vayechi

Almost 10 years ago I was at a dinner for JNF and the speaker said something that I still remember as vividly as the day I heard it.

He told us all to close our eyes and picture a large coliseum filled with every Jew. Not just every Jew alive today, but every Jew that has ever lived. In the center was a relay race and it started out with our father Abraham, and he ran with tremendous speed, and then passed the baton to Isaac who also ran extremely fast and then passed the baton to Jacob and on and on through the generations the baton was passed. Through Moses. Through King David. Through Rashi, Rambam, Joseph Cairo, The Chofetz Chaim, on and on and now it was just passed to us… and what are we going to do with it? Is our generation ready to build on the successes of the past or are we going to fall backwards?

The Torah portion tells us of a monumental shift in Jewish history. Jacob, the last of our forefathers dies. The generation of the brothers are now the seniors. In next week’s parsha, they die too. After that we plunge into a period of slavery that almost decimated the Jewish people. What happened with the generation after the brothers that they didn’t merit us to exist as a free people? There were great people in that generation. Joseph’s two sons Menashe & Ephraim were so great that they were spiritually elevated to the status of their father’s generation. Serah, the daughter of Asher, was so great that she lived from the time we entered Egypt until the time we left. Dan’s son Hushim was such a fierce warrior that the Middrash tells us that he killed Esau. Given such people, what happened that they couldn’t protect the rest of the people? Did they fail as leaders?

If one views the Egyptian exile as an avoidable situation if we made the right choices, then perhaps they could have prevented. However, from everything that I’ve read, the Egyptian exile was a necessary process in the formation of the Jewish people. It was part of G-d’s divine plan and therefore had to happen. Given that, it would have been impossible for them to avoid the enslavement no matter how great they were. The only thing they could have done was to plant the proper seeds that when the time is right the leaders of a future generation can take us out of exile and to the divine presence at Mount Sinai. From Jacob’s grandchildren came the seeds for people like Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Nachshom, Caleb & Joshua. These were such a group that they brought us from the most horrific exile to receiving the Torah in such a short period of time.

Someone might mistakenly think that they were born to non-religious parents in a non-religious environment and there’s too much stacked against them to accomplish good in this world. We can see from this that even if this is correct, our parents and grandparents still planted the seeds of Jewish identity within us and they’re now ready to flourish. It’s our generation’s time to pick up the baton of Judaism and run at a pace to make our forefathers proud. Just like the generation that left Egypt, we have the ability to take our generation from the depths of spiritual apathy to the heights of redemption.

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