Passing on Wisdom
December 16, 2022 / 22 Kislev 5783
A few weeks ago, I penned the column titled “Knowledge vs. Wisdom” that highlighted the importance and value of our elders in the community and how much we have to learn from their wisdom. I received loving feedback from old and young alike, sharing their appreciation of the message and exemplifying it with personal stories. And yet, it is in this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, where this point is emphasized all the more.
In this week’s opening verses of Genesis 37, we read of Jacob gifting his favored son, Joseph, a uniquely special tunic, colloquially called the Coat of Many Colors. Ironically, however, the actual language in the Torah does not mention colors at all. Some translations have used “ornamented” or striped,” but “colors” are not found anywhere in the text. We can probably thank Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” as the source for this particular creative interpretation.
In fact, it was the opportunity and reward that the tunic symbolized that Joseph’s brothers resented, not the tunic itself. It is in this same verse, when Joseph receives his tunic, that the Torah also tells us that Joseph was Jacob’s “child of old age” (37:3).
The great Torah scholar and commentator Ramban (Moses ben Nachman, commonly known as Nachmanides) explained that there was a custom of the elders at that time to identify a son who would be responsible for attending to him in his old age. The Ramban explained that Joseph’s brothers Issachar and Zebulun were only a year or two older than him, so to suggest that “child of old age” referred to Jacob’s maturity in life makes no sense at all.
The jealousy of the brothers was because Joseph would get to spend all his time with Jacob, learning from him, developing insight from his wisdom, and ultimately gaining the skills to sit in a position of authority over them, just as his dreams eventually foretold.
Gaining skills in life is important. Pursuing an education is essential. But without receiving the context and wisdom of what to do with these skills and experiences limit one’s potential tremendously. The greatest gift of the twentieth century was our ability to extend life. During the twentieth century, life expectancy increased from 50 to almost 80 years old!
However, one of our greatest downfalls of the twenty-first century was the breakup of the nuclear family. Now that our older adults are living longer, their ability to remain independent often keeps them at an unintentional distance from their children and grandchildren, thereby unable to pass on their wisdom and perpetuate the ancient practice of “children of old age.”
So this Hanukkah, let’s all make an extra concerted effort to be together with our elders. If yours are nearby and you can be together, wonderful! If your elders are distant but you can use technology to be together from afar, wonderful! And if your elders are away or no longer with us, then let one of our Jewish agencies in San Antonio help you join with a local elder who cannot be with their family. Let us all spend time under the glow of the Hanukkah candles and listen to the stories, the memories, and the wisdom of the messages of our elders. This opportunity will not exist forever, so let us make sure to make the most of these opportunities while we can. Because we are…
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,