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Parashat Toldot 5776

It is told about Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Alam, one of the greatest Sages of his time, that had a dream, where it is said to him from Heaven: “Be happy in your heart because you will be with Nanas the butcher. Your place and his place are already fixed in Paradise and they are like one place”. When Rabbi Yeshoshua woke up he was disappointed, he thought for himself: “Oy! (he was a rabbi after all), since I was born I have been G-d fearing and I didn’t occupy myself with nothing but the study of the Torah and my actions are compared to those of a butcher!”. He said to his students that he will go find this man, to find out what are his merits. After much searching, Rabbi Yehoshua arrived to the right place and asked where can he find Nanas the butcher. The people of the town said to him: “Why are you searching for him? You are a pious, wise man, great in the Torah and you are looking for a simple man like him?”. They showed him the way anyway. Finally Rabbi Yehoshua found Nanas the butcher. When Nanas saw him he fell to his knees and said: “What special day is this that the Crown of Israel comes to his servant?”. Rabbi Yehoshua said: “I have to speak to you my son, what are your actions and merits?. Nanas answered: “My lord, I am a butcher, that’s my main occupation. I have old parents that can’t walk anymore, so the little time I have left I wash them, dress them and prepare food for them”. Immediately stood Rabbi Yehoshua, kissed Nanas on his head and said: “My son, blessed are you and happy is your destiny! Happy I am to have the merit to be with you together in Paradise”. The value of respect for the elders and especially for our parents is a central value in Judaism, being even one of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your father and your mother, so your days are extended”. The Torah promises a long life to those that honour their parents and beyond the questions whether this is a literal promise, the fact is that the Torah reflects the important place that Jewish tradition gives to the respect, honour and dignity that we give to our parents and to the elderly in general. In our Parashah there are two sons: Yaakov, Jacob, and Esau, Esav. They are very different, except on the keeping of this principle: both love and respect their parents. Esav, considered by the Talmudic Sages as the archetype of evil, the spiritual father of the Roman Empire and all the anti-Semites in history, this Esav is shown in the story as someone that respects and loves his father deeply and is always ready to do his will. We read that Rivka, his mother, took “her eldest son Esav’s clothes, the nice ones that she kept in her house”. The Rashbam, one of the medieval commentators of the Torah, said that these were special clothes that Esav would wear only to serve and visit his father and therefore the clothes were kept at his parents’ house. On the other hand, Yaakov, even if he is less than honest with his father, he did this because his mother requested from him to do it and in every encounter with his father Yitzchak, Yaakov acts with respect, reverence and we could say even with some embarrassment because of the lies he is saying to him. Then we can think about ourselves and how do we relate to our parents and elderly people in general. Sometimes we understand, as Yitzchak did in this Parashah, that we usually repeat many of the actions of our parents, even those that we disagreed with when we were younger, today following on their steps in many senses. Those that lost a parent understand how much they are missed and how we would give anything to listen for one more time the voice of our dad, the advice of our mom. To all the elderly, even if of course there are not such people in our community. Our society tends to disregard them, to sanctify youth as a false god. Judaism says otherwise, we are told how much we can learn from them, from their life experience, from their stories, from the wisdom that only life itself can give you. Let’s serve them not only with special clothes, but more important with our attention, a smile, honour and appreciation.

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