Should everyone on the team get an award? Should every child sports player walk away with a trophy? Should there only be winners? It is a fine balance of celebrating effort and teamwork versus accomplishment. As millennials are pointing out, they did not give themselves the trophies and awards; their parents did. According to some, this leads to some members of that generation needing more praise at work and needing to learn how to fail.
We all may not appreciate how, at the end of his life, Jacob addressed his children. Or maybe millennials would. Jacob used various phrases when speaking to his children upon parting with them. To Reuben, Jacob said, “Unstable as water, you shall excel no longer.” To Issachar, he said, “When he saw how good was security, and how pleasant was the country, he bent his shoulder to the burden, and became a toiling serf.” To Benjamin, he said, “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he consumes the foe and in the evening he divides the spoil.” (Genesis 49)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it would go over well in my home if I called my children “unstable,” “serf” or “ravenous wolf.”
As Jacob concluded his words, the text says “All these were the tribes of Israel, twelve in number, and this is what their father said to them as he bade them farewell, addressing to each a parting word appropriate to him.” (Genesis 49:28)
Here’s the thing: the translation “appropriate” does not convey the Hebrew word bet-resh-chaf — blessing. The words may not feel like blessings but perhaps even we can see that they are. Standing at his father’s bedside, we don’t know Reuben’s reaction to being told he was “unstable,” but perhaps, over time, he realized that he would need to use his energy to find stabilizers in his life. Isaachar heard that he was a “serf,” and perhaps he appreciated that every person has their own proclivities and abilities and not all have to be second only to Pharaohs. Maybe Benjamin, called by his father a “ravenous wolf,” would watch his appetites.
The truth may not feel as warm and fuzzy as an award but it allows for growth based in reality and that is a blessing. Let us pass that blessing onto our own children, though perhaps our language could be a little gentler than that of our patriarch. pjc
Rabbi Barbara Symons is the rabbi of Temple David. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.