This story is an a favorite of mine. It goes along really well with the whole genealogy slash appreciation-for-your-roots theme.
And, it’s a great example of a successful, hit-you-in-the-heart Hassidic/Litvish philosophical fusion. Yes, they do exist.
And its inspiration derives from this week’s parsha. I first heard it from my rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet, a student of Rabbi Joeph Dov Soloveitchik z”l.
On a cold, dark, Russian day, not long after Chanukah, the young Joseph Dov found himself at cheder (a Jewish school) with a bevvy of sleepy, unengaged peers. The teacher, hearing how monotonously his students were reading the words of that weekly Torah reading, brought them to a halt with a seemingly simple question. What resulted was a life-changing moment for Joseph Dov:
What kind of question did Joseph ask his brothers, Ha-yesh lachem av? Do you have a father? Of course they had a father, everybody has a father! The only person who had no father was the first man of creation, Adam…Joseph asked the brothers, [are you] rooted in your father? Do you look upon him the way the branches, or the blossoms, look upon the roots of the tree? Do you look upon your father as the feeder, as the foundation of your existence?…Are you modest and humble? Do you admit that the old father represents an old tradition?
Do you believe that the father is capable of telling you something new, something exciting? Something challenging? Something you did not know before? Or are you insolent, arrogant, and vain, and deny your dependence upon your father, upon your source?
All in all, as Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet said when he told over the story:
Lots of good questions, and sometimes, it’s good to sit with those questions rather than answer them. But please feel free to share your thoughts and answers below.