This week’s Torah portion is Vayera, Exodus 6:2–9:35.
It is natural for parents to desire to leave their children and grandchildren with a legacy. For those fortunate enough to be able to do so, this wish expresses itself in the form of an inheritance. But for others, this is not realistic. How might they transmit a legacy to the next generation? I believe that the answer can be found in an important distinction in the Torah between the words yerusha (inheritance) and morasha (heritage).
We are all more familiar with the concept of yerusha, used throughout the Torah to describe the passing down of material possessions from parents to children. The concept of morasha is mentioned in the Torah in reference to only two things: Torah, as in “Moses prescribed the Torah to us, an eternal heritage for the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4), and Land of Israel (Ex. 6:8).
The different contexts in which these words appear is quite revealing about the different kinds of relationships between parents and children, and different priorities handed down from generation to generation, that these bequests engender. I would like to explore three different examples in which the differences between yerusha and morasha will clarify the significance of each.
The first point of distinction is in the realm of effort. The Jerusalem Talmud speaks of yerusha as something that comes easily. When a person dies, leaving a yerusha, the heir need not do anything other than receive the gift. Morasha, however, requires much more.
While an inheritance is what you receive from the previous generation — without your particular input — a heritage requires your active involvement and participation. A yerusha is a check your father left you; a morasha is a business that your parents may have started, but into which you must put much sweat, blood and tears.
This certainly explains why morasha is used only with regard to Torah and the Land of Israel.
Similarly, the Land of Israel cannot be acquired without sacrifice and suffering. Every parent in Israel who sends his or her child to the army understands this message very well. A heritage comes hard, not easily, and our national heritage is Torah and Israel.
The second distinction between the terms is not how the gift is acquired, but rather how it may be dispersed. Even the largest amount of money inherited yerusha can be squandered or legitimately lost. In contrast, a morasha must be given over intact to the next generation. Morasha literally means “to hand over to someone else.” Silver is an inheritance; it can be used in whatever way the heir desires; silver Shabbat candlesticks are a heritage, meant to be passed down from parent to child and used from generation to generation.
Finally, in the case of an inheritance, one must have the object of yerusha in one’s possession. This need not be the case with regard to a morasha.
Jewish parents bequeathed the ideals of Torah and the Land of Israel to their children for countless generations, even while living in exile far from the Promised Land, and even when poverty and oppression made it near impossible for them to become Torah scholars. Values can be passed down regardless of one’s physical or material station in life.
For this reason, an inheritance, regardless of its size, pales in comparison to a heritage. We all want to be able to bequeath a yerusha to our children and grandchildren, and we should do what we can to make that possible.
However, the most important legacy that we can leave them is a morasha, the eternal heritage, of Torah and the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chief rabbi of Efrat.