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Parshat Vaera: Exodus 6:2-9:35; Ezekiel 28:25-29:21.

It is only natural for parents to want to leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren. For those fortunate enough to be able to do so, this wish expresses itself in the form of an inheritance.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin - man smiling in suit and tie wearing glasses
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

For most people, this is simply not realistic. How might they transmit a legacy to the next generation? The answer can be found in the distinction the Torah makes between the words yerusha (inheritance) and morasha (heritage).

Yerusha is used throughout the Torah to describe the passing down of material possessions from parents to children. Morasha is mentioned in the Torah in reference to only two things: Torah [“Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage (morasha) for the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4)] and Land of Israel (the verse cited above at the outset).

The different contexts reveal a great deal about the different kinds of relationships between parents and children and different priorities that these bequests engender as they are handed down.

While an inheritance is what you receive from the previous generation (without your particular input), a heritage requires your active involvement and participation. A yerusha is a check your father left you; a morasha is a business that your parents may have started, into which you must put much sweat, blood

Another distinction is not how the gift is acquired, but rather how it may be dispersed. Even the largest amount of money inherited (yerusha) can be squandered or legitimately lost. In contrast, a morasha must be given intact to the next generation. Morasha literally means “to hand over to someone else.” Silver is an inheritance and can be used in whatever way the heir desires; silver Shabbat candlesticks are a heritage, meant to be passed down from parent to child and used from generation to generation.

Finally, in the case of an inheritance, one must have the object of yerusha in one’s possession. This need not be the case with regard to a morasha. Jewish parents bequeathed the ideals of Torah and the Land of Israel to their children for countless generations, even while living in exile far from the Promised Land, and even when poverty and oppression made it near impossible for them to become Torah scholars. Values can be passed down regardless of one’s physical or material station in life.

For this reason, an inheritance, regardless of its size, pales in comparison to a heritage. We all want to be able to bequeath a yerusha to our children and grandchildren, and we should do what we can to make that possible. Nevertheless, the most important legacy that we can leave them is a morasha, the eternal heritage of Torah and the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.

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