There is an expression, “ma’aseh avot siman la’bonim,” the actions of our forefathers are a lesson for us now.
In parshas Vayechi (48:8-10), we read a peculiar story. Yosef brings his two sons — Ephraim and Menashe — to his father, Yaakov, for a final blessing. Yaakov looks at them both and says, “Who are these children?” Surely, Yaakov knew who his grandchildren were. We read in the beginning of this parsha that Yaakov lived in Egypt for 17 years as a guest of Yosef. As a grandparent, he surely must have helped raise these two children, played with them, babysat for them, studied with them and been quite familiar with them. Why would he now ask Yosef, “Who are these kids?”
The midrash explains that Yaakov was about to bless his grandchildren, when suddenly his divine inspiration left him. Prophetically, he was able to see into the future that these children would be trouble. Looking ahead into the future, he saw that evil kings would descend from them. He, therefore, turns to Yosef and figuratively asks, “Who are these children? Why do they become so challenging and troublesome down the road? Are these really the children we put so much time and effort into? Is this what they become?”
I was once privileged to attend a gathering addressed by Rebbetzin Esther Jungries. She used this incident to illustrate a very important point. Often, we come across children who present challenges. Children, whom we fear will be nothing but trouble down the road. What do we do with them? How do we react? What lessons can the Torah teach us that might apply to them? She suggested that we read ahead and follow the story, as it unfolds in the parsha.
Yosef replies,“These are the children whom God has given me here.” In other words, he was saying, “This is what fate has given me. This is what I have to deal with here and now.”
Yaakov responds in a most fascinating manner. He says, if that is the case, “Please bring them to me, and I will bless them.” The Torah goes out of its way to narrate that Yosef then brought them even nearer. Yaakov literally kisses and hugs his grandsons. He blesses them and prays, “May the guardian angel who has always blessed me from all evil, bless these lads and may my name be declared upon them.”
Rebbetzin Jungreis concluded that this was the lesson of this interchange. As parents, we may have children who are challenging at times. We may have children, at times, who might be seen as nothing but trouble. That is — precisely — when one needs to bring them closer. That is the time when we need to kiss them, hug them and bless them even more. Raising children is one of the most awesome responsibilities we will ever have. Hopefully, the lessons of the avot will help guide us, as we travel this sometimes difficult journey. May Hashem grant all of us “nachas” from our children.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is past president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].