Rabbi Sessler D’var Torah

Jacob’s Dying Words

The Talmud tells a beautiful story about the origins of the quintessential Jewish prayer “Shma Yisrael”. According to the Talmud, the origins of Shma Yisrael are to be found in our parashah, as Jacob asks his sons to congregate around his deathbed. The children, not knowing that their father summoned them in order to bless them, fear that Jacob summoned them in order to express his own fear, namely that they will assimilate and lose their Jewish identity in Egypt.

And so, the children decided to approach Jacob’s deathbed together, and declare in unison: “Listen dad, listen father Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One” (Shma Yisrael/ Listen Israel/Listen Jacob/Listen dad: Hashem is our God, Hashem is One). To which their father, Israel, responded with a dying sigh of relief: “Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuto le’olam va’ed” (Blessed is God’s name forever and ever).

This midrash is much more than an amusing linguistic anecdote. It captures our own deep concern as parents, grandparents, and future parents. We are concerned, just like our patriarch Israel, about losing our children’s souls to a cultural Egypt. To a decadent human environment. The best way to confront this fear is to proactively be Israel, like the first Israel. To live Jewishly, with passion and personal example. And to demonstrate to our children time and again, the salience and nobility of Jewish life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sessler

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