This week’s torah portion touches on progeny as a key factor in our Jewish faith.
The opening verses of the Book of Exodus are an abridged, shorter repetition of a much more detailed account of the family, which grandfather Jacob brought with him on his journey to Egypt to meet his beloved son Joseph.
Rashi and Ramban, two classic biblical commentators, explain that with these opening verses, Exodus establishes its connection to and continuity with Genesis; they both add that the repetition of names expresses the great love God has for Jacob and his family.
I believe the seemingly repetitive verses contain a message that not only goes beyond this, but also holds the key to understanding the major mission and national mystery of the eternity of our people.
Many young Jews today are raising these questions: Why get married? And even more to the point: Why have children?
The Hebrew-Yiddish word nachas — joyous satisfaction — is heavily identified with celebrations involving one’s children and grandchildren. But when I investigated the negative population growth of many European countries, I realized perhaps it is observant Jewry that seems out of step with the world. I am truly convinced it is our Jewish obsession with progeny that is responsible for our continued survival and contemporary rebirth, and will guarantee our future.
One early talmudic commentary, Rabbenu Asher (1250-1328), maintains there is no specific command to be married; marriage is merely the necessary preparation for fulfilling the commandment “to be fruitful and to multiply.” (Ketubot 1:12)
For, you see, Judaism is a grand “unfinished symphony:” The Abrahamic mission is to convey to the world of nations a God of love, morality and peace in historic time. God promises through His prophets that eventually a more perfect society will be formed, and the world will be redeemed. Our narrative is to be found in the Bible. Our unique lifestyle, celebrations and memorials are detailed in the Talmud, and each Jewish parent lives in order to convey this mission to his/her child: To be a Jew is to parent — or to take responsibility — for a Jewish child of the next generation.
Hence the formation of our nation in Exodus emanates from the continuity of the family in Genesis. Each family of patriarchs and matriarchs bequeathed those in the direct chain of continuity. Jacob — the man and his household, the man and his forebears — came along with all his children and their children into Egypt.
These verses are not repetition of past events; they are guideposts for our future. All Jews must carry with them — wherever Jewish destiny takes them — the Jewish portable household civilization that formed our peoplehood. Only on the basis of that glorious past will we be equipped to shape a significant and blessed future.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.