Perpetuating the Mesorah

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Rav Soloveitchik suggested that Yaakov Avinu was the first patriarch to establish direct communication with his grandchildren. He was laying the foundation for the dialogue of all generations. He literally conquered time and space when he said to Yosef, “Your two sons, who were born to you in Mitzrayim, until I came to you, to the land of Mitzrayim-they are mine” [Bereishit 48:5]. They received portions in the later division of the Holy Land, as did the sons of Israel. Though a second generation removed, and raised in an Egyptian environment, Yaakov equated them with his own sons who had been reared close to him in the Holy Land.

Avraham and Yitzchak transmitted their spiritual heritage to their sons, but not to their grandsons. The latter received it from their fathers, but there was no direct communication between Avraham and Yaakov or between Yitzchak and Reuven and Shomon. The influence of the grandfathers on their grandchildren was indirect. Yaakov, however, related directly to his grandchildren; he did not need an intermediary or an interpreter, his was a direct dialogue. Yaakov the Zaken controlled the gulf of generations and transmitted the great Mesorah of Avraham directly to Efrayim and Menashe. Yaakov was the first to impart special blessings to his grandchildren, “HaMalach HaGoel oti” “May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths [pasuk 16]. He blessed them even before he assembled his own sons for their blessings. He embraced them between his knees, and he placed his hands upon their heads, symbolically stating that there was a direct transmission from Yaakov to Efrayim and Menasshe. There was to be no generation gap in the house of Jacob. The Halachik ruling (Yevamot 62b) that “Bnai banim hem K’banim” that grandchildren have the same status as children, is derived from Yaakov’s declatation about Efrayim and Menashe.

How appropriate, therefore, that our people are called “Israel” , for It was he who created the community which ensures Jewish continuity. What preceded him were patriarchal families, but Yaakov laid the foundation for a people. Though the covenant was made initially with Avraham Avinu, it was not until Yaakov that the secret of perpetuating the Mesorah was discovered.

(source: Reflections of the Rav)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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