After 20 years under the thumb of his father in-law Lavan, Jacob takes his family out of Charan and returns to his place of birth, to the holy land. Haunted by fear of his brother Esav, Jacob was determined to pre-empt their meeting with gifts and messages of peace – when the brothers finally meet, it is brief and amicable. Along the way Jacob wrestles and defeats the Angel of Esav and is given another name, Israel. From here on the Torah interchanges his name between Jacob and Israel.
Towards the end of the sedra we read of Rachel’s passing just after giving birth to the last son of Jacob. If we look closely at the text, we reveal a dramatic ending to a special life and an incredible lesson of Jewish Values.
The verses state that on their way from Beth-el to Ephrath, Rachel went into Labour. It would appear that there were complications, she became distressed and had great difficulty in bearing the child. As he was born, with her final breathe she called out and named him Ben Oni. Strangely at that moment Jacob steps in and changes it to Benjamin. Rachel then passes away, but why where they fighting, especially in her final moments. What was so important that Jacob felt the need to cause even more pain to his dying wife?
According to some opinions the meaning of Ben Oni comes from the words suffering or mourning. If that is the case, we must search for what was bothering Rachel to the point she was suffering? The obvious answer is because of her difficult child birth and her immanent passing; she therefore named the baby as a testament to her final struggle. However, we see it is much deeper. What would be of this child? How could he enter into this world without the love, care and devotion of his mother? In naming her son full of despair and emotion, Rachel was mourning his unknown and somewhat empty future without his mother there.
To that end, her loving and devoted husband came to her side and said ‘no’, his name will be Benjamin which is related to the word for strength. He was telling her not to die in anguish, but be comforted by me his father who will now watch over him as both parents would. He was telling her that he will take care of him, nurture him and ensure that this child will grow to fulfil his true potential in life. Incredibly, all Rachel could think about was the child, not her own suffering or emotion but that of her precious baby.
In Judaism we realise that our children bear the responsibility to carry the mantle of Jewish Heritage for future generations, to remain steadfast to Torah Law and to maintain and teach our traditions, to ensure Judaism and our relationship to God is kept alive.
After lighting Shabbat Candles on a Friday Night many women have the custom to recite a small prayer that can be found in the siddur, which beseeches God to merit us with children. Some of those words have been turned into a well known popular song – Vezakeini. Loosely translated we ask God to grant us with children who light up the world with Torah, Godliness and good deeds.
Rachel’s pain was not only for her own child, but she realised the true purpose of all children – that their potential can light up the world with love, kindness and devotion. It is children that can have the greatest impact on the world, and she feared that with her passing her son would not be able to fulfil his destiny.
The lessons ring loudly to us. We have to nurture our children, not just those we bear, but all children in the world. We need to empower, educate and provide for their needs. The responsibility is our shared burden to ensure their needs are met and also to encourage them to grow, each in their own way.
It is my hope and dream that all children have the opportunity to reach their potential, and that we as their parents and the adult population have the wisdom and understanding to guide them to fulfil their unique role in life.
Jacob’s journey continues.
We saw last week that he married twice, had many children and was eventually forced to flee his father in law Laban. This week our sedra opens with his brother Esau’s threatening to attack. Still enraged by hatred for Jacob, not forgetting how he stole his blessing, Esau advances with a strong army leaving Jacob and his family in fear.
Jacob decides to move his family across the river taking their possessions with them – or so he thought. Mysteriously after crossing, Jacob returns to where they had camped. The reason for this Rashi explains, is that he had forgotten some small jugs, and therefore went back to get them. This seems odd – was this wise for Jacob to risk his life for some seemingly insignificant vessels? Would we give that same advice for him to go back and get them? Surely keeping the family together and moving forward would have been more important.
To answer this, we must look at who Jacob was and what he stood for. Most of us would see ourselves as a master of our possessions. We own things and take pride in their appearance and ultimately decide how they are maintained. We have the power to decide whether they have value. In principle we use things for our needs and their worth is measured on how useful they are to us.
However for a spiritual person, a person who is a dedicated servant of G-d, knows that all he has comes from G-d, and therefore takes no or little credit for what he possesses. Jacob looked at the items he had forgotten, now as an insignificant couple of jars, rather, they were objects that had been given to him from G-d and therefore ultimately saw with great sincerity the need to return for them. To Jacob, they had no less significance then all the other possessions he bought across the river.
As we know from these chapters in the Torah, we can learn many life lessons from emulating the ways or our forefathers. The lesson here is not to consider all objects has having equal value, but to work to see the value in what we have. The important thing is to always remember that our goals in life should be to work hard, try our best and be kind to others. On top of that as Jewish people we have an obligation to build a connection with G-d. Showing our appreciation to Him as well as realising the value in what we have, go very far in putting us on that path. We must always realise that all we have is from G-d, and learn to show true appreciation for all our things.
It is something to aspire to, and can only help us to live an enriched and fulfilled life