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Fathers Investing in Sons

Torah: Investing in the Next Generation

The Book of Genesis is best understood as a story of early relationships and their growth, and as such the lessons it holds (unlike, say, specific commandments for priests) are universal for humanity.

The trajectories cover a range of themes: women’s rights (from pre-flood rape to the cessation of taking women one covets after Simeon and Levi); brotherly love (from Cain killing Abel, though Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and finally Ephraim and Menasseh as the first brothers who were not in conflict with each other); fathers and sons (Terah, Avraham, Isaac and Jacob all leave their fathers after they come of age and never return – Jacob and his sons are the first to choose to live together); G-d’s involvement in each individual person’s life; and the primacy of ideas and knowledge over every form of power (from the Tower of Babel as G-d’s demonstration of this, to Joseph’s interpretations as the first human example).

Little noticed, however, is the degree to which fathers invest in their sons. Think of it this way: Adam seemingly has nothing to do with Cain and Abel. Noach brings his sons along for the ride, but they do not even seem to help build the ark. Terach also brings Avram along with him on his journey, but that seems to be the limit of their interchange. Avraham in turn loves Isaac, but nothing much else is said. Isaac enjoys Esau’s venison, but otherwise there does not seem to be much communication. Yaakov is the first to give something to his a son, by clearly favoring and gifting Joseph.

Joseph changes the trend. Not only does he name his sons, he does so by clearly associating them with his own life, and with his relationship to G-d.

And Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasseh: ‘for God hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house.’ And the name of the second called he Ephraim: ‘for God hath made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.’ Gen. 41:51-52

This is extraordinary. Before Joseph, only Leah had done the same in the same way (with Yaakov and Rachel arguably naming their children as well, albeit to a lesser extent). I think that there is a progression in this within Genesis that mirrors the book as a whole: By the end of the book, the older generation is clearly investing their own selves and even extending the relationship that they have with G-d, with the younger generation. Women do it first, but the men get there a generation later – and we know children need both parents to be involved.

When fathers started spiritually investing in their children, it became possible for people to move forward, from generation to generation. Building upon the previous generation is the most essential building block for a changing civilization – and more than this, the essential ingredient for historical progression.

From this point on, the pattern is set, and the Jewish nation can gestate in Egypt and be born in the splitting of the waters of the Red Sea. All of the trends that advanced in Genesis have reached a level of maturity wherein it is possible to grow and nurture a nation, a nation ready to institutionalize these lessons and grow lasting and binding relationships with each other and with G-d.

P.S. It is amazing that, if one reads the Torah carefully, Joseph does not even introduce his sons to his father, Jacob, until he hears that Jacob is ill (and may be dying). I think it is possible that Joseph, realizing that his father’s unequal love had done so much damage to his own family (Leah and Rachel, as well as Joseph and his brothers), kept his children away from Yaakov in fear that Yaakov would somehow introduce discord between brothers who had none.

But when Yaakov finally meets the sons, he crosses his arms to bless them – which forces them to touch each other (try sitting with your arms crossed, and try to cover the head of two grown men with your palms – they will have to be very close, indeed). The resulting blessing, though it has some elements of favoritism, is more unifying than any other in the Torah up to that point. And so Yosef’s sons are then adopted by Yaakov and presumably join the rest of the family in Goshen, where they grow together from then on.

Comments are welcome!

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