By Rabbi Mijael Even David
It is told of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Alam that a voice from Heaven came to him in a dream, saying: “Be happy in your heart, because you will be with Nanas the butcher. Your place and his place are already fixed together in Paradise.” When Rabbi Yehoshua woke up he was disappointed. He thought to himself, “Oy! Since I was born I have been God-fearing, and I have occupied myself with nothing but the study of the Torah. And yet my actions are compared to those of a butcher!” He decided to go find this man and weigh his merits.
Rabbi Yehoshua came to the town where Nanas the butcher lived, and asked to meet him. 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 merits?” Nanas answered, “My lord, I am a butcher, that’s my main occupation. I have old parents who can’t walk anymore, so the little time I have left I spend washing them, dressing them and preparing food for them.” Rabbi Yehoshua kissed Nanas on his head and said, “My son, blessed are you and happy is your destiny! Happy am I to have the merit to be with you together in Paradise.”
The value of respect for elders, and especially for our parents, is a central value in Judaism. “Honour your father and your mother, so your days will be long.” The Torah promises a long life to those who honour their parents, reflecting the important place that Jewish tradition gives to the respect, honour and dignity due to our parents and to the elderly in general.
Our Parashah tells of two sons, Jacob and Esau. They are very different, except in this: both love and respect their parents. Esau loves his father deeply and is always ready to do his will. We read that Rebecca, his mother, takes “her eldest son Esau’s clothes, the nice ones that she kept in her house”. The Rashbam, a medieval commentator, says that these were special clothes that Esau would wear only to visit and serve his father, so the clothes were kept at their house.
Jacob, even if he is less than honest with his father, follows his mother’s advice. And in every encounter with his father, Jacob acts with respect, reverence, and even some embarrassment because of the lies he is telling him.
We should think about ourselves and how we relate to our parents and elderly people in general. Sometimes we understand, as Isaac does in this Parashah, that we tend to repeat many of the actions of our parents, even those that we disagreed with when we were younger. Those who have lost a parent understand how much they are missed, and how they would give anything to hear once more their father’s voice, their mother’s advice.
Society tends to disregard the elderly, to sanctify youth as a false god. Judaism says otherwise. We are told how much we can learn from our elders’ 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 importantly with our attention, a smile, honour and appreciation.
Rabbi Mijael Even David is the rabbi of Edgware Masorti Synagogue.