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Learning Torah With Our Children

After Yosef reunites with his brothers, he sends them back to Canaan with a request that Yaakov and family relocate to Egypt. The Torah describes the brothers’ attempts to inform their father that Yosef was alive, and Yaakov’s initial refusal to believe them. Only once the brothers relay Yosef’s own words, and Yaakov sees the wagons that Yosef sent, does he finally believe the wonderful news.

The meforshim wonder what ultimately convinced Yaakov that Yosef was finally alive, despite his initial disbelief. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Yaakov was convinced by a special sign that Yosef had sent to his father. By sending wagons (עגלות), Yosef hinted to Yaakov regarding the last Torah topic they had learned together, the topic of עגלה ערופה (a complex case where someone is found dead in the wilderness between two cities).

This Midrash raises an important question to consider. Yaakov and Yosef enjoyed a very special relationship, as the Torah describes in Parshat Vayeishev. Presumably, there were many aspects of this relationship that Yosef could have used to hint to Yaakov of his existence. Why did he specifically reference their Torah learning? Why not refer to another symbol of their bond—perhaps the special coat that Yaakov had gifted to Yosef? Or perhaps a symbol associated with his mother Rachel, who served as the foundation for their special relationship? Why does Yosef davka reference their shared Torah learning?

Perhaps we can suggest that the Midrash is highlighting something regarding Yosef’s own perception of his relationship with his father. Of all the various aspects of their exceptional relationship, what Yosef valued more than anything else was learning Torah with his father. More than the special coat, more than any other gifts that Yaakov gave to Yosef, Yosef cherished those moments of Torah learning together, as his father passed down to him the mesorah. When deciding what medium to use as proof to Yaakov of his existence, therefore, he referenced the aspect of their relationship that affected him most profoundly: their shared limud Torah.

Simply put, we as parents must make time to learn Torah with our kids…

Many years ago I was privileged to meet privately with Rav Lichtenstein, zt”l, and I raised with him the topic of raising children. Over the course of the ensuing conversation, one line particularly stuck with me. He said, “You must make sure to learn with your children, and you must make sure to play basketball with them as well.” I learned many great lessons from this quote, but first and foremost his words imparted to me that making time to learn with my children was a basic responsibility as a parent.

The Rambam famously opens his Hilchot Talmud Torah by discussing a father’s obligation to teach his son Torah, even before discussing the general obligation to learn Torah. This seems to indicate that a parent’s learning with his child is perhaps more important than his own personal Torah study. Perhaps we can even add that the Rambam is suggesting that foundational to a person’s own Torah learning will be the studying that he does together with his children—as he passes on the Jewish mesorah to the next generation.

In an essay titled “On Raising Children,” Rav Lichtenstein quotes Rav Soloveitchik, who said that when one gets to Olam Haba, he will be asked, “Based on what do you deserve entry to Olam Haba?” The Rav added that, personally, he would mention three things—one of which was that he learned with his children.

Learning Torah with one’s children is not simply an obligation; it is a true privilege. On a personal note, I am fortunate to learn every Shabbat morning with each of my children—and it’s often the highlight of my week. It’s a special time set aside weekly for me to give my full attention to each child, which in and of itself is valuable, irrespective of the content.

Additionally, practically it has encouraged me to learn many topics I had never learned before. Even topics that I have studied before are further enhanced as each child brings a unique perspective to the topic. Finally, our learning together allows me to share my enthusiasm for talmud Torah with my children. The opportunity to encounter the dvar Hashem together, and to experience the excitement that shared encounter creates, is an opportunity that I cherish.

Of course, learning with one’s kids can take different forms. Those able to make time on a regular basis to learn with each child, so much the better. But for those for whom this is unrealistic, simply taking advantage of a Shabbat table, or any other setting, to discuss the parsha or other topics of Judaism can be an invaluable experience. Of all the various aspects of his special relationship with Yaakov, what Yosef cherished most was the Torah learning he shared with his father. This lesson should encourage us toward such shared learning with our children, as well.

To end with a beautiful quote from Rav Lichtenstein’s article, reflecting on the time commitment required to learn with his kids, “One pays a price for this… However, that is a price that you should be very well ready and willing to pay, and thank God every morning for the ability to pay it. It is a source of joy beyond words.”

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and placement adviser/internship coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected].

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