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Shabbat Parashat Vayetze "Children and Deffered Dreams"
by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
We all dream about our lives, our families and our destiny. Born into a
world we did not create, motivated by hope, energy and drive, we spend our
childhood and adolescence absorbing wonderful stories of adventure, heroes
and fantasies. And we dream. We dream of achieving the highest ideals of
our fantasy life...of being president, landing on the moon or becoming a
star. We imagine ourselves as wealthy, or famous or wise. Venerating a
galaxy of admired adults, we imagine ourselves as one of them, as one of
the best of them.
In the fantasies of children, life has no end; possibilities, no limit.
And we are not alone in spinning those dreams. Children may aggrandize
themselves, but they do so with the active consent and encouragement of
their parents, grandparents, teachers and a supporting cast of thousands.
We urge our children on, asking of them only two requests; "fulfill all of
our unaccomplished dreams," and "take us with you." Diligently, we drive
our children to the ballet and music classes, to the ballparks, and urge
them on with their science projects and religious school, all with the hope
that they will become what we dreamed of and abandoned. If we could not
grow up to become Nobel laureates, our children must. Let them become
observant and knowledgeable Jews, business magnates or nominees for the
Hall of Fame. Often without even becoming aware of our own fantasies, we
impose them on our children.
We make peace with our own limitations, concede to reality only by shifting
the object of our endless ambition. I won't ever be a concert pianist, but
my children might. This pattern, of reality disappointing one generation,
causing them to transfer their hopes and dreams onto the next generation is
as old as humanity itself.
We catch a glimpse of it as Leah realizes that her husband, Jacob, doesn't
love her as much as he loves his other wife, her sister Rachel. Wrestling
with the pain, the anger and the disappointment of rejection, lonely in the
face of her husband's disinterest, Leah -- the one with the soulful eyes --
is also the one with tremendous hopes. In the depths of her misty pupils,
one can see the pining for a passion she would never know; in the drops of
her tears, her pent-up caring and affection leaking away.
Each of her sons, one after another, embodies yet another desperate attempt
to win over her husband's love. Each one is, therefore, loved not for
himself -- not for being a beautiful infant. Instead, her children
represent hope deferred and aspiration transferred. Reuben is so named
because "the Lord has seen my affliction" and "now my husband will love
me." Shimon, "because the Lord heard that I was unloved and has given me
this one also."
Leah calls her third son Levi because "my husband will become attached to
me, for I have borne him three sons." Each one of these boys embodies yet
another cry of pain and grief, another unsuccessful attempt to win the
affection of Jacob. Ironically, all three sons will, as adults, disappoint
and anger their father, producing tragedy for the aged patriarch.
With the birth of her fourth son, Judah, Leah finally achieves the inner
strength to stop craving her husband's approval. Now she no longer lusts
after his concern. She is able to stand on her own. Judah is a source of
pure joy, in and for himself. "This time, I shall praise the Lord."
The noted commentator, Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (15th Century Italy) notes that
this is the first child in the Torah whose name contains that of God! Like
God, Judah is himself a source of joy, not merely a tool toward
accomplishing some other goal.
Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, (12th Century Spain) observes that Leah's choice
of a name is a confession that "I will praise God because I do not desire
more." Therefore, she stopped bearing. In her own process of growth and
maturation, Leah came to recognize her own worth, independent of the esteem
of Jacob. While grieved by his rejection, she accedes to the reality of
the present, without having to impose her dreams on her sons.
In our own lives, we, too, face disappointments and the need to relinquish
our childhood ambitions and dreams. Like Leah, we can grow to accept
ourselves and reality without saddling the next generation, our children,
with the unrealized fantasies of their parents. And only then are we in a
position to truly praise, to thank, and to love.
Amen. Shabbat Shalom.