The Torah towards the end of Parashat Vayechi (50:23) tells that Yosef lived to see grandchildren, adding that “the children of Makhir, son of Menashe, were raised on Yosef’s lap.” The plain meaning the text, of course, is that Yosef enjoyed the gratification of seeing great-grandchildren and even taking part in raising them. We might, however, wonder if perhaps there is a deeper, symbolic message being conveyed by the description of Yosef’s great-grandchildren being raised “on his lap.”
The Chatam Sofer suggests that the Torah here alludes to the fact that Yosef’s great-grandchildren learned from and followed his example. Yosef’s life was a story of dramatic reversal, as he was cruelly driven from his family, sold into slavery, and then cast into prison on false charges, before suddenly becoming the second most powerful person in the most powerful kingdom on Earth. But at every stage, both during his period of suffering and in his years of glory, Yosef remained faithfully obedient to God, following the legacy of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was devoted to his religious values and principles when he suffered persecution and when he enjoyed great honor and prestige. This legacy of unshakable consistency, the Chatam Sofer writes, was carried by his great-grandchildren, only in reverse sequence. They began their lives in royal conditions of luxury, as part of Yosef’s family. But in adulthood, the tide turned, and the new Pharaoh introduced a program of persecution against Benei Yisrael. Like Yosef, his great-grandchildren experienced both a period of royalty and a period of persecution. And having been raised “on his lap,” they followed his example of consistency, remaining faithful to God all throughout, under all circumstances.
Every set of circumstances presents its own unique challenges – whether it’s wealth or poverty; loneliness or fame; success or failure. The Chatam Sofer’s comments remind us that we can and must overcome the full range of religious challenges that we confront, and that we must be prepared at every stage of life to meet a new series of challenges that will invariably present themselves.