Parshat Vayeshev contains the first installment of Joseph’s story. We might, therefore, expect the portion’s initial sentences to mention Joseph, Torah style – “Eleh toldot Yosef … These are the generations of Joseph; Joseph was 17 years old …” or “Vayehi achar hadvarim ha’eleh … And it happened after these things that Joseph was 17 years old …” Instead, the tale commences – “Vayeshev Yaakov beeretz megurei aviv, be’eretz Kenaan … Jacob settled in the land where his ancestors lived, in the land of Canaan … Eileh toldot Yaakov … These are the generations of Jacob … Yosef ben shva esrei shanah … Joseph was 17 years old …”
Why begin with a reference to Jacob and his ancestors? These opening verses present a compact but powerful message about tradition and continuity. According to a Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 40:6), God instructs Abraham:“Tsei uchvosh et haderech lifnei vanecha – Go out and pave the way for your children.” This imperative applies to us all. From Abraham until this day and after, every Jew has and will have the responsibility to pave the way for his or her descendants.
While each of us sets our own life’s course, we also carry our ancestral legacy. While we tell our own stories, we must carry the awareness that we are setting a tone and direction for our children and their children after. As a Schechter alum and a Schechter parent, I am cognizant of the way my parents’ choice influenced their grandchildren’s educational paths. As members of the Schechter community, we all experience the force of tradition and the key role a day school education can play in promoting Jewish commitment and continuity. Like Jacob, we’ve elected to occupy the same spiritual space as our parents and to carve out that space for our children. Tsei uchvosh et haderech … Go out and pave the way.
David Bernat ’72, Executive Director Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, UMass Amherst Lecturer in Judaic Studies and Schechter Alumni Parent