Daf Yomi Nedarim 64
Our patriarch, Yaakov, is lying on his deathbed. He calls over his children to bestow his final blessing. Yosef appears with his two sons, Menashe and Ephraim. He positions Menashe, the firstborn, to his father’s right and Ephraim to the left. All of a sudden, he realizes that Yaakov has switched his hands to place his right hand on Ephraim’s head and his left on Menashe’s.
Yosef attempts to switch the hands back to their correct positions, but Yaakov resists, saying, “I know, my son, I know; he too will beget a tribe, and he too will be great. But his younger brother will be greater than he, and his children's fame will fill the nations.” Our Sages explain that Yaakov foresaw that from Menashe would come Gideon who would miraculously save the Israelite nation. But from Ephraim would come Joshua, who would conquer and apportion the Land of Canaan, as well as halting the setting of the sun in Gibeon.
Rabbi Eliezer taught: When a person comes to the sage to have his vow annulled, we initiate an exit from the vow with the honour of his father and mother.
The Ran explains: We say to him, ‘Had you known that by being quick easy to take vows, you’d be disgracing your father and mother – for the Talmud teaches that a wicked child of a righteous individual receives the appellation of ‘wicked one, child of a wicked one’ – would you have vowed?
Rabbeinu Yonah begins his Shaar Haavodah with this teaching: How do you ensure success and righteousness in life? Always consider who you are and who you come from. You are a princess! You are a prince! You come from royalty, and royalty acts a certain way, always maintaining impeccable standards!
You want your kids to stay on the straight and narrow? Every night before they go to sleep, don’t read them Dr. Seuss; tell them the stories of their grandparents, and their great-grandparents – how dedicated they were to their Judaism! Don’t stop there – continue with all your ancestral heroes, all the way back to our national matriarchs and patriarchs! Engender within them a sense of pride in their royal blood, such that they would never entertain the possibility of disrupting that incredible chain!
But here’s the most powerful motivation to do the right thing: you are a time traveller. We naturally believe that our actions today affect the present and the future. The truth is, they also affect the past! Remember that for G-d, past/present/future is all the same thing. And so in our service of the Almighty, they likewise all blend into one.
What do I mean? When Joshua stepped up to the plate to lead the Israelites into Canaan, at that moment, he caused Yaakov to switch his hand from his great-great-uncle Menashe to his great-grandpa Ephraim! Had Joshua sat back and been a regular Joe for forty years, Ephraim would not have received the preferential treatment from Yaakov. That’s the meaning of the Ran’s teaching that your appellation (righteous or wicked) affects your parents’ appellation. Your actions today affect their power and status yesterday! In other words, you have the power of time travel – your conduct in the present can change the past!
The decisions you make today not only determine whether the chain of our history will continue unchanged in the future; your choices have the ability to fortify or disrupt the links in the chain of generations past! The butterfly effect works forwards and backwards! How will you choose to impact your descendants and your ancestors? Positively or negatively? Selflessly or selfishly? Spiritually or mortally?
The weight of your family line rests on your shoulders. That is an enormous responsibility. But you know that you are up for the task. May you merit making your bloodline proud for all generations, past, present, and future!