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Names are instructive, they tell us a lot about the things that they describe. When Jewish custom and history settles on a name for a Torah portion, the name bears a connection to the general theme of the portion. The name of this portion is Bo, which means to enter. …

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Home » Coming of Age, Vayechi

Vayechi : Where Did the Disconnect Occur?

Submitted by on December 20, 2004 – 4:57 pmNo Comment | 657 views

Growing Into Our Own

His parents want him to apply for business school but he is committed to music.  Throughout college he is subjected to veiled comments and nuanced complaints but the young man holds firm. Four years later he graduates with honors and his parents attend the commencement ceremony. They finally, but grudgingly, conced that the path he chose was right for him.This scenario, in one way or another, plays out in many homes across the country. It is a familiar pattern. When children are first born they are their parents’ pride. But as they mature they develop their own identities and the parents feel somewhat abandoned. Where did we go wrong? Why does he no longer value our advice? Why does he insist on doing things his way?

Many educators argue that is a normal phase of the developmental process. These educators are in esteemed company. Our Patriarch Yaakov supported this argument nearly four thousand years ago.

Yehudah Sits Atop

In our Parsha we read that Yaakov blessed his children and introduced each one by name. When he came to his fourth child, Yehudah, he proclaimed, “Attah Yoducha Achecha – your brothers shall acknowledge you.” Why would the brothers acknowledge Yehudah more so than those who came before him? (1)

Our matriarch Leah was a woman well versed in the nuance of human nature. The names she chose for her children indicated the depth of her parental bond with them and the degrees through which it progressed.

The Joys of Parenthood

She named her first son Rueben. The Talmud describes her elation as she cried out, “Reu Ben – see here, I have a son.” As every new parent does, Leah exulted in the simple joy of giving birth. (2)

Healthy human beings yearn to contribute and siring a child is the greatest form of contribution. We see in our child an extension of ourselves. We shower them with the love that we enjoyed in our youth. good parenting - innerstreamWe gratify their every desire as we would like to be pampered ourselves.

This love is somewhat self-centered, it is not as much about the newborn as it is about the parent. The newborn is at this point only a medium through which his mother and father become parents. He enables their contribution and inspires their love.

This may seem selfish but in terms of the relationship it is vital because it forces the parents to establish a foundation of love and commitment. If the child’s personality would immediately emerge it would obstruct this critical process of parental incubation.

The “Oys” of Parenthood

There comes a time when the child matures, enters adolescence and detects this paternal attitude. At this stage he may resent it and want to assert his independence. The parents now need to adjust their attitude and recalibrate the relationship.

The child now asks for a little distance between his parents and himself. He does not necessarily negate their love. He simply desires an adjustment in the family perspective. “Love me for whom I am,” he cries, “not for the self that you see in me. Allow me to experience my independence and to develop my own personality.”

In the beginning it was crucial for the parent to take full ownership of the child in order to cement the relationship. It is now equally crucial for the child to draw away and develop his own unique personality.

This second stage is reflected in the name of Leah’s second son, Shimon, which means to listen. With Rueben, Leah was asking everyone to look, with Shimon she was asking them only to listen. It is possible to hear of an event even from a distance, but to see it, one must be in close proximity.

By naming her children in this order Leah intimated that in the beginning there is great closeness between parent and child but with time the relationship will demand objective appraisal and a little bit of distance.

The Child Has His Cake

The young man now embarks on a quest for maturity and a journey of self-exploration. Once he is well on his way, parents and son settle comfortably into their new roles. The parents now accept that their son is his own man and the son now realizes that he can always count on his parents for love and support.

They adjust their expectations and accept the new dynamics of their relationship. They learn to love each other for who they are. It may not be what they had earlier envisioned but they have nevertheless returned to their old loving ways.

This third stage is reflected in the name of Leah’s third son Levi, which means to cleave or to embrace. Levi represents the parents who learn to accept and even embrace their son. After the period of distance, represented by Shimon, the pendulum swings back to its origin, as represented by Levi.

And Gets To Eat It Too

This is not yet the final stage. That can occur only when the child proves to his parents that the choices he made were indeed right for him. In the third stage the parents concede that their son has the right to make his own decisions. In the fourth stage the parents acknowledge that their son’s decision was right. (3)

This fourth stage is about acknowledgement and it is reflected in the name of Leah’s fourth son Yehudah, which means acknowledgement.

We now return to our earlier quote, “Yehudah you shall be acknowledged by your brothers.” Indeed, parents and child must journey through three full stages, represented by the first three brothers, before they are able to acknowledge each other frankly and lovingly. (4)

The intense love of youth, the uneasy friction of adolescence and the conflict resolution of adulthood are now jointly manifested in a mature, reciprocal relationship. (5)

Footnotes

  1. Geneses 49, 8
  2. Bab. Talmud Tractate Berachos 7 b. Please note that the quote is somewhat taken out of its original context.
  3. In our relationship with G-d the four stages are also reflected. The first stage is one of closeness and love. We meditate on G-d’s greatness and experience an intense attraction to him. The second stage is distance and fear. We reflect on our own paucity and recognize that we have no right to enter G-d’s domain; Teshuva dominates this stage. The third stage is that of recognizing G-d’s omni-presence. We realize that we cannot shrink from him. He is present in distance as he is in closeness and we come to accept that despite our paucity he wants us to cleave to him. Letting G-d in when we know we don’t deserve it triggers the fourth and final stage, that of total humility and self-abnegation. True humility transforms one into an authentic vessel for G-d regardless of previous sin and inequity.  For more information see Torah Ohr p.45 a-d (R. Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813)
  4. This concept is also reflected in the comment that Leah made in association with naming her fourth son. She said, “This time I may acknowledge G-d.” (4) Why was she unable to acknowledge G-d any earlier? The Midrash (5) explains that she was grateful for having given birth to more then her allotted share of the twelve tribes. (Yaakov married four wives and each therefore deserved to give birth to three tribes.) We may yet argue that she also intended the concept developed in this essay.
  5. It is possible to suggest that the same concept applies to our collective relationship with G-d. Yehudah is the tribe of royalty from which the progeny of Moshiach will emerge. Counting the exile of Egypt, Babylon, Syria-Greece and Rome, we anticipate the imminent end of our fourth and final exile. With the coming of Moshiach we, as Jews, will have reached the culmination of the fourth stage in which we will enjoy a mature and eternal relationship of loyalty and commitment with our father in heaven.
  6. Midrash Rabbah ch. 71.4

 

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