The Jews had arrived at the border of the Kingdom of Edom and asked for permission to travel through their country. In order to inspire sympathy and understanding from the Edomites, Moshe gave them a bit of the background to their journey:
We are distant relatives, he reminded the Edomites. Our respective ancestors, Yakov and Esau, were brothers. As a nation, we’ve been doing it tough. We were slaves in Egypt and only recently escaped. We’re finally heading towards our promised homeland and it would be much appreciated if you’d agree to allow us safe passage.
In the end, the Edomites denied our request and the Jews were forced to travel the long way around, through the desert.
A fascinating teaching of Rashi casts a whole new light on the nature of inter-generational relationships.
In his message to the King of Edom, Moshe relates that “ Our fathers went down to Egypt, and we sojourned in Egypt for a long time, The Egyptians mistreated us and our forefathers.” (Chukas 20:15). Rashi explains that the “forefathers” mentioned at the end of the verse were not actually in Egypt with us, rather it is a reference to our ancestors who too were in pain, “because when Israel is afflicted with suffering, the Patriarchs grieve in the grave.” (Rashi ibid)
It’s a remarkable concept. When we hurt, our grandparents cry. When we suffer, our ancestors grieve along with us.
We have been molded and shaped by those that came before us. However, we don’t just receive from our gene pool, rather, it is a reciprocal relationship. Whatever happen to us, directly impacts them. We can influence those who lived before us.
In many ways it makes me feel closer to my deceased grandparents and more grateful for the love that my forebears continually show me. When I am in danger, they intercede on my behalf before the Heavenly throne and when things go wrong, they suffer along with us. We are not alone.
Rabbi Mendel (Menachem) Bluming, Potomac, Maryland