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    My father’s shoes – Vayyeshev

    The sidra opens with the statement that Jacob dwelt in the land where his father had lived (Gen. 37:1).

    A couple of weeks ago we read something similar about Jacob’s own father, Isaac, who found water by re-digging the wells which his father Abraham had dug (Gen. 26:15). It seems that Biblical thinking believes in following in your father’s footsteps.

    But following your parents’ example has its limits.

    The great educator, Dr Matthew Arnold, said that there were two things we ought to learn from history: “One, that we are not in ourselves superior to our fathers; another, that we are shamefully and monstrously inferior to them, if we do not advance beyond them”.

    The patriarchs would have agreed that they were not intrinsically better than their fathers, and they took it for granted that there was benefit to be gained from renewing their forebears’ experiences.

    Yet each patriarch in his own way moved beyond his predecessors. As Alexander the Great said, each had his own victories to win.

    All of us have to tackle the problems of our own generation, but in many ways and on many occasions we can derive much help from the precedents of the past.

    In my own case, even though I am far from a clone of my parents, I often ask myself what my father would have done in a given situation, or what my mother would have thought or said. I do not automatically follow their example, but it instructs me.

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