One of the questions that I often struggle to answer is the one that asks why I believe in God. Yes, sometimes I question God, but I always believe in God. Why do I let that faith guide me in the world? The reason it’s hard for me to answer is because in a certain sense, I’ve never had the choice. I mean, yes, I could’ve chosen not to observe Judaism and gone off on my own different path than my family, but it was never a choice I considered. I believe in God because I was raised in a family that believes in God, and it was instilled in me that belief in God is hopeful and reinforces the sense that the world is bigger than me or this moment. Belief in God connects me to my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, all the way through our lineage to Abraham. Put simply, I believe in God because I do. For me, that’s compelling enough.
This is not to downplay or denounce the very real crises of faith people experience. Many wonder if God exists, if God has ever existed, and why it even matters. In our Torah portion this week, we get the notion of why it matters, and we receive the reasoning for transferring this belief from generation to generation.
This week we read Parshat Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis. The text begins with the request of Jacob to not be buried in Egypt, and continues with Jacob blessing each of his sons in his final hours. This text ends with Joseph making the request of his kin to bury him back in Israel when they finally leave Egypt.
Toward the end of the Torah portion, we read about the grandfather’s blessing. Joseph takes his children Ephraim and Menashe to his father Jacob for their blessing. As Jacob blesses the children he says, in chapter 48, verse 16, “In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac.” The blessing he invokes upon his grandsons is that they may find faith in the actions of their forefathers (our forefathers) and that that faith will benefit them with strong belief in God.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad, comments on this verse to say, “The most valuable legacy we can leave our children and grandchildren is bequeathing to them the faith that sustained us.” In other words, the transmission of faith supersedes transmission of material wealth. As far back as the Torah, we learn that blessings and family values are what matters.
Parshat Vayechi reminds us that it’s not just our faith that makes up our Judaism, but equally important is where that faith comes from and how it’s passed down. Interestingly, the Gregorian calendar has given us this parshah twice in 2021 (once in January and once in December). I hope you’ll take this extra push to reconnect with our faith and possibly get closer to the answer of why you believe. And then, of course, pass it on.