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    A patriarch in retirement – Vayyechi

    Carrying Jacob's body to the Cave of Machpelah for burial

    Jacob spent 17 years in Egypt (Gen. 47:28). What did he do with his time there?

    The Torah does not spell it out. How, after all, do retired patriarchs fill their days?

    We wish we knew. He was an honoured elder and sage. He presumably spent a great deal of time with his grandchildren and probably schooled them in the ways and traditions of the family.

    There could have been a cultural and spiritual tug-of-war between modern youngsters living in prosperous, upper-crust Egyptian society, and an old-time zaide who was desperate to preserve the language, idiom, values and customs of the family’s ancestral home.

    We know that story all too well as the result of the Jewish population movements of the last century and more. In our case there is a sort of happy ending.

    As the American Jewish sociologist and philosopher Will Herberg has pointed out, there seems to be a rule that what the second generation wishes to forget, the third generation wishes to remember.

    The second generation is determined to shake off the encumbrance of the alte heim: the third generation sees that the rebellion has gone too far and tries to recapture the spirit and substance that were so hastily discarded.

    It’s a pity we don’t know for certain whether this occurred with Jacob and his family. It probably did, since history has a habit of repeating itself.

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