What toll have the wanderings of the Jews taken on our national psyche? What consequences have there been to our spiritual and cultural identities as a result of centuries of globetrotting, usually out of urgent necessity rather than choice? Clearly, there must have been many dramatic and discernible effects. Today, in our own freely chosen migrations, it behooves us to learn the lessons of our history.

This week's parshah tells the story of Joseph's reunion with his family after some two decades of separation. Joseph is now viceroy of Egypt and sends for his father Jacob and the rest of the family, promising to support them all during the famine that was then gripping the region. Old father Jacob agrees to go down to Egypt but needs some Divine reassurance. G‑d provides such encouragement, telling Jacob to have no fear of descending to the land of the pharaohs.

Why was Jacob fearful and how were his anxieties allayed?

Commentaries offer a variety of answers. He was reluctant to leave the Holy Land and its special heavenly presence. Egypt was infamous as a morally depraved society. He was afraid of losing his children to an alien culture. He was already old and did not want to be buried in Egypt. Concerning all the above, G‑d reassured Jacob. And so he goes down and the rest is history.

But there was something particularly significant that he did before leaving. He sent Judah to establish the first Jewish Day School for the children. Jacob took what he considered to be a vital precaution to prevent any assimilation in Egypt. How best could he guarantee Jewish continuity and the spiritual and moral protection of his grandchildren? There could be no better way, no more effective tool than Jewish education. And so Judah formed the advance guard on the way down to the challenging cultural melting pot of Egypt.

How many of our grandparents declined invitations to leave Eastern Europe in the last century because America was a treifene medina (let me be kind and translate that as "an unkosher country")? A great many, I can tell you. My own zayde, Reb Yochonon Gordon, of blessed memory, refused to consider moving to the United States back in the 1930's, even though he already had three brothers there practicing as shochtim (ritual slaughterers) in New York. It wasn't until the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe promised him that his children would remain faithful to Torah and the chassidic way of life, and would even study in the Rebbe's yeshiva (a fanciful daydream at the time), that he agreed to put in his immigration papers. Thankfully, the dream was fulfilled when the Rebbe came to New York in 1940 and immediately founded a yeshiva where my uncles were among the first students.

Sadly, we know of too many children of pious European parents whose children did not fare well Jewishly in America. As religiously committed as their parents may have been, young people born and/or raised in the America of the early- to mid-20th century were all too often swept away by the dominant culture of the great melting pot. They were quickly Americanized and in the process jettisoned their parental values to embrace the popular culture of a tantalizing new world. It was the exceptional parent who was able to offer any meaningful resistance to this powerful societal trend. Few were creative enough to successfully communicate old world values in the context of the new social order.

Socially, professionally and economically, those young people did very well indeed, and in one generation became educated and successful though their parents were illiterate immigrants. But Jewishly? Not too many managed the transition that well. Those who remained faithful to their forefathers' way of life were generally those whose parents worried enough to do something about it. Who survived Jewishly in the end? Only those whose parents ensured a meaningful Jewish upbringing for their children, both in school and at home. It wasn't easy but there were the moral heroes and heroines who stood out at the risk of ridicule by the majority.

Jacob worried in Egypt, my grandfather worried in Europe and we need to worry today. Because history has shown that unless we are concerned enough to translate our anxieties into action, the children of Israel may become enchanted and mesmerized by prevailing civilizations. May we all have the strength to put work into the aspirations we have for our children and may we enjoy yiddishe nachas now and always.