What about the Kinder?
During the last weeks of each secular year, we tend to do a “fairly decent” job of reaching out to the poor and less fortunate. Through our participation in mitzvah day at Forgotten Harvest and our support of a variety of charities at this time of year, we work hard to care for those who are in financial need.
Hopefully at this time of year as well, when many of us had Chanukah and secular New Year celebrations with family and friends, we are also reaching out to those among us who might be emotionally in need, such as widows and widowers, and all those who are missing someone close. It is specifically at this joyful holiday season, amidst the cold and darkness, that the loss of loved ones is often felt most acutely.
But there is another group of people we should consider as we rush to make our last donations and resolutions before the start of the New Year. There is an important segment of our community who should receive the highest attention at all times: our children.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Va-y’chi, Jacob formally adopts his two grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob, on his deathbed, says to his son Joseph, “Now, your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, shall be mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine no less than Reuben and Simeon” (Genesis 48:5).
Why would Jacob, already the father to thirteen children, adopt Joseph’s two sons … with Joseph and his wife still alive to care for them?! The answer, quite simply, has to do with inheritance.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the tribe of Levi received no official property of their own. The Levites and Kohanim,descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, were not to own land but, instead, were blessed with serving in the Holy Temple. Then, instead of the children of Joseph dividing up one section of tribal land, Ephraim and Manasseh were each awarded their own inheritance, as if they themselves were the children of Jacob. In this way, though the Levites were not to become landowners, the Land of Israel could still be divided into twelve tribal regions.
If, like Ephraim and Manasseh, our grandchildren are worthy of inheritance–those who are biologically related to us and those whom the community “adopts,” then we as individuals and as a sacred community are not only “doing good” by dedicating such a significant part of our resources to the Jewish education and Jewish experiences of our children, we are fulfilling a most sacred obligation and participating in an ancient custom that goes back to Jacob himself. And we do so in addition to the care their own parents provide them.
As is made clear in our Torah portion this week, the obligation to provide for Jewish children is binding upon us all. As a community we do quite a bit for the kinder, including providing the best Religious School in Metro Detroit and providing generous (but never enough) support for those attending Camp Ramah and Day School. But we can always do more. And for our own biological children and grandchildren as well we must actively support and create Jewish education, Jewish experiences and Jewish memories.
Even with Ephraim and Manasseh’s father, Joseph, standing right next to him, Jacob adopted his grandchildren and provided for them as if they were his own. May we continue to follow in his lead, for are own children and grandchildren and for our shul’s children, and may we make sure that their inheritance is a good one.
Rebecca, Caleb and Ayal join me in wishing you Shabbat shalom and a happy secular New Year.
-Rabbi Aaron Starr