FORGET ME NOT
Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D.
When Joseph names his first son Menashe, the Torah tells us that it was as a reminder that Hashem had "caused him to forget his father" (Genesis 41:51).
When Joseph names his first son Menashe, the Torah tells us that it was as a reminder that Hashem had "caused him to forget his father" (Genesis 41:51). Usually, when a name is given in the Torah, it is an expression of thanks to G-d; here it seems that the name signals a negative emotion, the forgetting of a parent.
Our sages tell us that, in truth, Joseph lamented the fact that he could not fulfill the mitzvah of honoring one's parents all the time he was in Egypt. He named his child Menashe, meaning Hashem "caused me to forget," to remind himself of Jacob, even though Hashem had filled his mind with other thoughts to alleviate his guilt at not fulfilling one of the core mitzvot of the Jewish faith. In other words, Joseph regretted that he could not give his father the proper honor, kavod, when they were so far apart. He felt bad that he could not take care of Jacob in his old age, that he could not serve him and provide him with all kinds of attention, that he could not stand up for him when he entered the room. Therefore, the naming of his child Menashe was an occasion to give honor to his father, albeit indirectly.
What this passage reminds us of is our tremendous obligation to serve our parents whenever we have the possibility to do so. We do not have to wait until they get older. We can do it now. Every Friday night, and, for that matter, at every meal that is served in one's house, we can do our utmost to serve our parents by helping set the table, by cleaning it up, by taking out the garbage, by speaking to our parents in a respectful way, by always smiling when we speak to them and never addressing them in a raised tone of voice.
The reality is that, in all likelihood, we will outlive our parents and will not be able to fulfill this mitzvah during a good part of our adult years. Therefore, we should not lose the opportunity each and every day to do whatever we can to fulfill this important mitzvah for which the Torah tells us the specific reward is long life.
Let me close with a vignette. In 1976, my father, of blessed memory, was ill in a New York hospital and there was grave concern about his recovery. He had difficulty swallowing foods at the time and he asked me one evening when I was there in his room to please see if I could get him some ice cream. I remember running several blocks to a local store to pick up an ice cream soda for him, and I remember how much I felt this was a wonderful opportunity for me to do a mitzvah for him. I had been living in Atlanta for a number of years and had not been able to give this kind of personal service with any degree of frequency. Therefore, I just enjoyed the opportunity to do this deed, and I savored his enjoyment of that ice cream soda. I have often said to myself how wonderful it would be if I could again have that opportunity to give him personal service.
Let us not be casual on how we relate to our parents. Rather let us be diligent in doing the mitzvah of honoring our parents, for by doing so we bring great benefits not only to them, but to ourselves as well.
Rabbi Herbert J. Cohen, Ph.D., Ph.D. has been the dean of the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over 20 years.
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