When our father Jacob was an old man, our tradition teaches that he gathered all of his children and grandchildren around his bed. All his life Jacob struggled and wrestled to figure out who he was. One night he wrestled with a divine figure and then received a new name: Yisrael, one who wrestles with God and prevails. That’s our name today. We are called b’nei yisrael, the children of Israel, or Jacob. We carry Jacob’s legacy of wrestling with us, as we ask questions, figure out what we believe, and what we care about. Just before he dies Jacob is still wrestling. He gathers his children around and tells them he is worried about what will happen to them after he dies. Will his children carry on the faith and relationship with God that his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham passed down to him? Will they carry on the values of hospitality and kindness that he received from his family?
The midrash teaches that the sons turned to their father and said: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” meaning — Listen, Sh’ma, Israel, (Jacob’s other name) Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” The sons are saying: Don’t worry, dad. Adonai is our God, just as Adonai has been your God. Our faith in the one God is secure and our relationship with God will continue long after you leave this world. When Jacob heard his sons affirm their faith, he breathed a sigh of relief and said quietly, just as we do in the second line of the Sh’ma prayer: “baruch shem k’vod malchuto l’olam va’ed” — blessed is God’s glorious reign forever. Hearing those reassuring words from his children brought Jacob comfort. From that moment on, Jacob knew that God’s reign would go on forever: In that second line of the Sh’ma, he is saying: The God who has been central to my life is not going to disappear or be forgotten. Our sacred relationship with God is in safe hands with my children, and I now know they too will pass this legacy down to their own children. As you recite the Sh’ma and cover your eyes, think about that value or lesson you learned from someone you love, and commit to passing it down as your own family legacy.