“Sometime afterward, Joseph was told, ‘Your father is ill.’ So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim” (Gen 47:1)
No one wants to get that call. “Your parent/sibling/child/friend is ill and dying. Get here now.” No matter how much we know it’s coming, no matter how rational we get about that, it’s still getting the call that sets our hearts racing, stops our breathing.
As I get older, this happens to my friends more and more, and it will happen again to me someday. My father died 30 years ago, went off to work and never came home. He was 65, a number that is more and more a close neighbor. But my mom just celebrated her 90th birthday, and this text reminds me of what honoring a beloved but elderly parent is all about.
“He took with him his two sons” –which teaches us to get the family together. What a blessing that Joseph got there in time, and the presence of mind to bring the grandchildren. For my mother’s celebration, we had 20 immediate family members from around the world for almost a full week before the party, and then welcomed 30 additional dear friends and family to our home. Mom was surrounded by her 8 grandchildren, some with partners and/or spouses, and the one representative of the three great-grandchildren. We sang to her, we recited poetry, we took lots of pictures, and joy permeated the rooms of our home.
Like Jacob, Mom was able to rejoice in her family, the blessings surrounding her. Eventually, on his deathbed, Jacob asked for all his sons to gather together at his side. (I wonder where Dina was, but then again, I’m not surprised she wasn’t there; she probably wasn’t missed by those who recorded/wrote the text.) What follows is not so much a blessing for each son, but rather an assessment of a father to his child. Jacob knew what his sons were like, what their personalities were, and knew what kind of lives they would be drawn to. My mother has a remarkable relationship with her grandchildren, each one of them. They talk to her, they call her, they confide in her, and she keeps their confidences. The blessings go both ways. Mom has the same clarity of vision of her children that Jacob had. She knows our failings and our strengths, and loves us anyway.
When Jacob finally died, his son Joseph fulfilled the promise made: to bury him not in Egypt, but to take him home to where his ancestors were, to Machpelah. Joseph performed the ultimate mitzvah, honoring the dead.
I do not relish getting that call, whenever it comes (may it be a long time from now). But I also know that Mom’s active, pretty-darn-healthy life is exactly how she wants it to be, as opposed to a long, slow, painful decline. I have friends who have that sad experience, and I’m grateful we’re not there. I know I’ll get that call someday. May I have the presence of mind that Joseph had – to gather the clan, to follow her wishes, and to look to new generations with clarity, love, and joy.